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Nat Commun. 2018 Jul 13;9(1):2715. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-05121-8.

Single neurons may encode simultaneous stimuli by switching between activity patterns.

Caruso VC1,2,3,4, Mohl JT5,6,7,8, Glynn C9,10, Lee J5,6,7,8,11, Willett SM5,6,7,8, Zaman A9,12, Ebihara AF13, Estrada R14,15, Freiwald WA13, Tokdar ST16,17, Groh JM18,19,20,21.

Author information

1
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC, 27708, USA. v.caruso@duke.edu.
2
Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA. v.caruso@duke.edu.
3
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA. v.caruso@duke.edu.
4
Department of Neurobiology, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA. v.caruso@duke.edu.
5
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC, 27708, USA.
6
Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA.
7
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA.
8
Department of Neurobiology, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA.
9
Department of Statistical Science, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA.
10
Department of Decision Sciences, University of New Hampshire, Durham NH, 03824, USA.
11
Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Riccarton, Christchurch 8041, New Zealand.
12
Department of Statistics, Harvard University, Cambridge MA, 02138, USA.
13
The Rockefeller University, New York, New York NY, 10065, USA.
14
Department of Computer Science, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA.
15
Department of Computer Science, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30302, USA.
16
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC, 27708, USA. surya.tokdar@duke.edu.
17
Department of Statistical Science, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA. surya.tokdar@duke.edu.
18
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC, 27708, USA. jmgroh@duke.edu.
19
Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA. jmgroh@duke.edu.
20
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA. jmgroh@duke.edu.
21
Department of Neurobiology, Duke University, Durham NC, 27708, USA. jmgroh@duke.edu.

Abstract

How the brain preserves information about multiple simultaneous items is poorly understood. We report that single neurons can represent multiple stimuli by interleaving signals across time. We record single units in an auditory region, the inferior colliculus, while monkeys localize 1 or 2 simultaneous sounds. During dual-sound trials, we find that some neurons fluctuate between firing rates observed for each single sound, either on a whole-trial or on a sub-trial timescale. These fluctuations are correlated in pairs of neurons, can be predicted by the state of local field potentials prior to sound onset, and, in one monkey, can predict which sound will be reported first. We find corroborating evidence of fluctuating activity patterns in a separate dataset involving responses of inferotemporal cortex neurons to multiple visual stimuli. Alternation between activity patterns corresponding to each of multiple items may therefore be a general strategy to enhance the brain processing capacity, potentially linking such disparate phenomena as variable neural firing, neural oscillations, and limits in attentional/memory capacity.

PMID:
30006598
PMCID:
PMC6045601
DOI:
10.1038/s41467-018-05121-8
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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