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PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(10):e1002615. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002615. Epub 2012 Oct 18.

Multiple spike time patterns occur at bifurcation points of membrane potential dynamics.

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Computational Neurophysics Laboratory, Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


The response of a neuron to repeated somatic fluctuating current injections in vitro can elicit a reliable and precisely timed sequence of action potentials. The set of responses obtained across trials can also be interpreted as the response of an ensemble of similar neurons receiving the same input, with the precise spike times representing synchronous volleys that would be effective in driving postsynaptic neurons. To study the reproducibility of the output spike times for different conditions that might occur in vivo, we somatically injected aperiodic current waveforms into cortical neurons in vitro and systematically varied the amplitude and DC offset of the fluctuations. As the amplitude of the fluctuations was increased, reliability increased and the spike times remained stable over a wide range of values. However, at specific values called bifurcation points, large shifts in the spike times were obtained in response to small changes in the stimulus, resulting in multiple spike patterns that were revealed using an unsupervised classification method. Increasing the DC offset, which mimicked an overall increase in network background activity, also revealed bifurcation points and increased the reliability. Furthermore, the spike times shifted earlier with increasing offset. Although the reliability was reduced at bifurcation points, a theoretical analysis showed that the information about the stimulus time course was increased because each of the spike time patterns contained different information about the input.

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