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Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2006 May;73(5 Pt 1):051907. Epub 2006 May 11.

Persistent dynamic attractors in activity patterns of cultured neuronal networks.

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Department of Physics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.


Three remarkable features of the nervous system--complex spatiotemporal patterns, oscillations, and persistent activity--are fundamental to such diverse functions as stereotypical motor behavior, working memory, and awareness. Here we report that cultured cortical networks spontaneously generate a hierarchical structure of periodic activity with a strongly stereotyped population-wide spatiotemporal structure demonstrating all three fundamental properties in a recurring pattern. During these "superbursts," the firing sequence of the culture periodically converges to a dynamic attractor orbit. Precursors of oscillations and persistent activity have previously been reported as intrinsic properties of the neurons. However, complex spatiotemporal patterns that are coordinated in a large population of neurons and persist over several hours--and thus are capable of representing and preserving information--cannot be explained by known oscillatory properties of isolated neurons. Instead, the complexity of the observed spatiotemporal patterns implies large-scale self-organization of neurons interacting in a precise temporal order even in vitro, in cultures usually considered to have random connectivity.

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