Intracellular and computational evidence for a dominant role of internal network activity in cortical computations.

Alain Destexhe

Current Opinion in Neurobiology 21: 717-725, 2011.

Special issue "Networks, Circuits and Computation" (edited by Feldman D., Feller M. and Dayan P.)

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The mammalian cerebral cortex is characterized by intense spontaneous activity, depending on brain region, age and behavioral state. Classically, the cortex is considered as being driven by the senses, a paradigm which corresponds well to experiments in quiescent or deeply anesthetized states. In awake animals, however, the spontaneous activity cannot be considered as "background noise'', but is of comparable -- or even higher -- amplitude than evoked sensory responses. Recent evidence suggests that this internal activity is not only dominant, but it shares many properties with the responses to natural sensory inputs, suggesting that the spontaneous activity is not independent of the sensory input. Such evidences are reviewed here, with an emphasis on intracellular and computational aspects. Statistical measures, such as the spike-triggered average of synaptic conductances, show that the impact of internal network state on spiking activity is major in awake animals. Thus, cortical activity cannot be considered as being driven by the senses, but sensory inputs rather seem to modulate and modify the internal dynamics of cerebral cortex. This view offers an attractive interpretation not only of dreaming activity (absence of sensory input), but also of several mental disorders.
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