Cortical reliability amid noise and chaos

Typical responses of cortical neurons to identical sensory stimuli appear highly variable. It has thus been proposed that the cortex primarily uses a rate code. However, other studies have argued for spike-time coding under certain conditions. The potential role of spike-time coding is directly limited by the internally generated variability of cortical circuits, which remains largely unexplored. Here, we quantify this internally generated variability using a biophysical model of rat neocortical microcircuitry with biologically realistic noise sources. We find that stochastic neurotransmitter release is a critical component of internally generated variability, causing rapidly diverging, chaotic recurrent network dynamics. Surprisingly, the same non-linear recurrent network dynamics can transiently overcome the chaos in response to weak feed-forward thalamocortical inputs, and support reliable spike times with millisecond precision. Our model shows that the noisy and chaotic network dynamics of recurrent cortical microcircuitry are compatible with stimulus-evoked, millisecond spike-time reliability, resolving a long-standing debate.


Published in:
Nature Communications, 10, 3792
Year:
Aug 22 2019
ISSN:
2041-1723
Keywords:
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 Record created 2019-09-05, last modified 2019-12-05

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