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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Oct;108(8):2115-33. doi: 10.1152/jn.00362.2012. Epub 2012 Jul 18.

Intrinsic heterogeneity in oscillatory dynamics limits correlation-induced neural synchronization.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


Synchronous neural oscillations are found throughout the brain and are thought to contribute to neural coding and the propagation of activity. Several proposed mechanisms of synchronization have gained support through combined theoretical and experimental investigation, including mechanisms based on coupling and correlated input. Here, we ask how correlation-induced synchrony is affected by physiological heterogeneity across neurons. To address this question, we examined cell-to-cell differences in phase-response curves (PRCs), which characterize the response of periodically firing neurons to weak perturbations. Using acute slice electrophysiology, we measured PRCs across a single class of principal neurons capable of sensory-evoked oscillations in vivo: the olfactory bulb mitral cells (MCs). Periodically firing MCs displayed a broad range of PRCs, each of which was well fit by a simple three-parameter model. MCs also displayed differences in firing rate-current relationships and in preferred firing rate ranges. Both the observed PRC heterogeneity and moderate firing rate differences (∼10 Hz) separately reduced the maximum correlation-induced synchrony between MCs by up to 25-30%. Simulations further demonstrated that these components of heterogeneity alone were sufficient to account for the difference in synchronization among heterogeneous vs. homogeneous populations in vitro. Within this simulation framework, independent modulation of specific PRC features additionally revealed which aspects of PRC heterogeneity most strongly impact correlation-induced synchronization. Finally, we demonstrated good agreement of novel mathematical theory with our experimental and simulation results, providing a theoretical basis for the influence of heterogeneity on correlation-induced neural synchronization.

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