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J Neurosci. 2012 Jan 11;32(2):506-18. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3474-11.2012.

Neural correlation is stimulus modulated by feedforward inhibitory circuitry.

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Department of Neurobiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


Correlated variability of neural spiking activity has important consequences for signal processing. How incoming sensory signals shape correlations of population responses remains unclear. Cross-correlations between spiking of different neurons may be particularly consequential in sparsely firing neural populations such as those found in layer 2/3 of sensory cortex. In rat whisker barrel cortex, we found that pairs of excitatory layer 2/3 neurons exhibit similarly low levels of spike count correlation during both spontaneous and sensory-evoked states. The spontaneous activity of excitatory-inhibitory neuron pairs is positively correlated, while sensory stimuli actively decorrelate joint responses. Computational modeling shows how threshold nonlinearities and local inhibition form the basis of a general decorrelating mechanism. We show that inhibitory population activity maintains low correlations in excitatory populations, especially during periods of sensory-evoked coactivation. The role of feedforward inhibition has been previously described in the context of trial-averaged phenomena. Our findings reveal a novel role for inhibition to shape correlations of neural variability and thereby prevent excessive correlations in the face of feedforward sensory-evoked activation.

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