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Biosystems. 1998 Sep-Dec;48(1-3):85-94.

Thalamo-cortical interactions modeled by weakly connected oscillators: could the brain use FM radio principles?

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Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Arizona State University, Tempe 85287-7606, USA.


We consider all models of the thalamo-cortical system that satisfy the following two assumptions: (1) each cortical column is an autonomous oscillator; (2) connections between cortical columns and the thalamus are weak. Our goal is to deduce from these assumptions general principles of thalamo-cortical interactions that are independent of the equations describing the system. We find that the existence of synaptic connections between any two cortical columns does not guarantee that the columns interact: They interact only when there is a certain nearly resonant relation between their frequencies, which implies that the interactions are frequency modulated (FM). When the resonance relation holds, the cortical columns interact through phase modulations. Thus, communications between weakly connected cortical oscillators employ a principle similar to that in FM radio: The frequency of oscillation encodes the channel of communication, while the information is transmitted via phase modulations. If the thalamic input has an appropriate frequency, then it can dynamically link any two cortical columns, even those that have non-resonant frequencies and would otherwise be unlinked. Thus, by adjusting its temporal activity, the thalamus has control over information processing taking place in the cortex. Our results suggest that the mean firing rate (frequency) of periodically spiking neuron does not carry any information other than identifying a channel of communication. Information (i.e. neural code) is carried through modulations of interspike intervals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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