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J Neurophysiol. 2000 Mar;83(3):1158-66.

Circuit dynamics and coding strategies in rodent somatosensory cortex.

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Department of Mathematics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


Previous experimental studies of both cortical barrel and thalamic barreloid neuron responses in rodent somatosensory cortex have indicated an active role for barrel circuitry in processing thalamic signals. Previous modeling studies of the same system have suggested that a major function of the barrel circuit is to render the response magnitude of barrel neurons particularly sensitive to the temporal distribution of thalamic input. Specifically, thalamic inputs that are initially synchronous strongly engage recurrent excitatory connections in the barrel and generate a response that briefly withstands the strong damping effects of inhibitory circuitry. To test this experimentally, we recorded responses from 40 cortical barrel neurons and 63 thalamic barreloid neurons evoked by whisker deflections varying in velocity and amplitude. This stimulus evoked thalamic response profiles that varied in terms of both their magnitude and timing. The magnitude of the thalamic population response, measured as the average number of evoked spikes per stimulus, increased with both deflection velocity and amplitude. On the other hand, the degree of initial synchrony, measured from population peristimulus time histograms, was highly correlated with the velocity of whisker deflection, deflection amplitude having little or no effect on thalamic synchrony. Consistent with the predictions of the model, the cortical population response was determined largely by whisker velocity and was highly correlated with the degree of initial synchrony among thalamic neurons (R(2) = 0.91), as compared with the average number of evoked thalamic spikes (R(2) = 0.38). Individually, the response of nearly all cortical cells displayed a positive correlation with deflection velocity; this homogeneity is consistent with the dependence of the cortical response on local circuit interactions as proposed by the model. By contrast, the response of individual thalamic neurons varied widely. These findings validate the predictions of the modeling studies and, more importantly, demonstrate that the mechanism by which the cortex processes an afferent signal is inextricably linked with, and in fact determines, the saliency of neural codes embedded in the thalamic response.

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