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PLoS One. 2016 Sep 6;11(9):e0161934. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161934. eCollection 2016.

Transition between Functional Regimes in an Integrate-And-Fire Network Model of the Thalamus.

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Departament of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Dr. Aiguader 88, 08003 Barcelona, Spain.
Departament de Física i Enginyeria Nuclear, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Rambla Sant Nebridi 22, 08222 Terrassa, Spain.
The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Pontedera, 56026, Italy.


The thalamus is a key brain element in the processing of sensory information. During the sleep and awake states, this brain area is characterized by the presence of two distinct dynamical regimes: in the sleep state activity is dominated by spindle oscillations (7 - 15 Hz) weakly affected by external stimuli, while in the awake state the activity is primarily driven by external stimuli. Here we develop a simple and computationally efficient model of the thalamus that exhibits two dynamical regimes with different information-processing capabilities, and study the transition between them. The network model includes glutamatergic thalamocortical (TC) relay neurons and GABAergic reticular (RE) neurons described by adaptive integrate-and-fire models in which spikes are induced by either depolarization or hyperpolarization rebound. We found a range of connectivity conditions under which the thalamic network composed by these neurons displays the two aforementioned dynamical regimes. Our results show that TC-RE loops generate spindle-like oscillations and that a minimum level of clustering (i.e. local connectivity density) in the RE-RE connections is necessary for the coexistence of the two regimes. We also observe that the transition between the two regimes occurs when the external excitatory input on TC neurons (mimicking sensory stimulation) is large enough to cause a significant fraction of them to switch from hyperpolarization-rebound-driven firing to depolarization-driven firing. Overall, our model gives a novel and clear description of the role that the two types of neurons and their connectivity play in the dynamical regimes observed in the thalamus, and in the transition between them. These results pave the way for the development of efficient models of the transmission of sensory information from periphery to cortex.

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