Inferring network activity from synaptic noise

Michael Rudolph and Alain Destexhe

Journal of Physiology (Paris) 98: 452-466, 2004.

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During intense network activity in vivo, cortical neurons are in a high-conductance state, in which the membrane potential (Vm) is subject to a tremendous fluctuating activity. Clearly, this "synaptic noise" contains information about the activity of the network, but there are presently no methods available to extract this information. We focus here on this problem from a computational neuroscience perspective, with the aim of drawing methods to analyze experimental data. We start from models of cortical neurons, in which high-conductance states stem from the random release of thousands of excitatory and inhibitory synapses. This highly complex system can be simplified by using global synaptic conductances described by effective stochastic processes. The advantage of this approach is that one can derive analytically a number of properties from the statistics of resulting Vm fluctuations. For example, the global excitatory and inhibitory conductances can be extracted from synaptic noise, and can be related to the mean activity of presynaptic neurons. We show here that extracting the variances of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic conductances can provide estimates of the mean temporal correlation-or level of synchrony-among thousands of neurons in the network. Thus, "probing the network" through intracellular Vm activity is possible and constitutes a promising approach, but it will require a continuous effort combining theory, computational models and intracellular physiology.
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