J. Neurosci. 28: 11806-11813, 2008.
Emerging experimental evidence suggests that both networks and their component neurons respond to similar inputs differently, depending on the state of network activity. The network state is determined by the intrinsic dynamical structure of the network and may change as a function of neuromodulation, the balance or stochasticity of synaptic inputs to the network, and the history of network activity. Much of the knowledge on state-dependent effects comes from comparisons of awake and sleep states of the mammalian brain. Yet, the mechanisms underlying these states are difficult to unravel. Several vertebrate and invertebrate studies have elucidated cellular and synaptic mechanisms of state dependence resulting from neuromodulation, sensory input, and experience. Recent studies have combined modeling and experiments to examine the computational principles that emerge when network state is taken into account; these studies are highlighted in this article. We discuss these principles in a variety of systems (mammalian, crustacean, and mollusk) to demonstrate the unifying theme of state dependence of network output.