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J Neurophysiol. 2002 Dec;88(6):3487-97.

Correlated discharges among putative pyramidal neurons and interneurons in the primate prefrontal cortex.

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Section of Neurobiology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.


Neurophysiological recordings have revealed that the discharges of nearby cortical cells are positively correlated in time scales that range from millisecond synchronization of action potentials to much slower firing rate co-variations, evident in rates averaged over hundreds of milliseconds. The presence of correlated firing can offer insights into the patterns of connectivity between neurons; however, few models of population coding have taken account of the neuronal diversity present in cerebral cortex, notably a distinction between inhibitory and excitatory cells. We addressed this question in the monkey dorsolateral prefrontal cortex by recording neuronal activity from multiple micro-electrodes, typically spaced 0.2-0.3 mm apart. Putative excitatory and inhibitory neurons were distinguished based on their action potential waveform and baseline discharge rate. We tested each pair of simultaneously recorded neurons for presence of significant cross-correlation peaks and measured the correlation of their averaged firing rates in successive trials. When observed, cross-correlation peaks were centered at time 0, indicating synchronous firing consistent with two neurons receiving common input. Discharges in pairs of putative inhibitory interneurons were found to be significantly more strongly correlated than in pairs of putative excitatory cells. The degree of correlated firing was also higher for neurons with similar spatial receptive fields and neurons active in the same epochs of the behavioral task. These factors were important in predicting the strength of both short time scale (<5 ms) correlations and of trial-to-trial discharge rate covariations. Correlated firing was only marginally accounted for by motor and behavioral variations between trials. Our findings suggest that nearby inhibitory neurons are more tightly synchronized than excitatory ones and account for much of the correlated discharges commonly observed in undifferentiated cortical networks. In contrast, the discharge of pyramidal neurons, the sole projection cells of the cerebral cortex, appears largely independent, suggesting that correlated firing may be a property confined within local circuits and only to a lesser degree propagated to distant cortical areas and modules.

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