Neural network mechanisms underlying stimulus driven variability reduction

Gustavo Deco, Etienne Hugues

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84 Citations (Scopus)


It is well established that the variability of the neural activity across trials, as measured by the Fano factor, is elevated. This fact poses limits on information encoding by the neural activity. However, a series of recent neurophysiological experiments have changed this traditional view. Single cell recordings across a variety of species, brain areas, brain states and stimulus conditions demonstrate a remarkable reduction of the neural variability when an external stimulation is applied and when attention is allocated towards a stimulus within a neuron's receptive field, suggesting an enhancement of information encoding. Using an heterogeneously connected neural network model whose dynamics exhibits multiple attractors, we demonstrate here how this variability reduction can arise from a network effect. In the spontaneous state, we show that the high degree of neural variability is mainly due to fluctuation-driven excursions from attractor to attractor. This occurs when, in the parameter space, the network working point is around the bifurcation allowing multistable attractors. The application of an external excitatory drive by stimulation or attention stabilizes one specific attractor, eliminating in this way the transitions between the different attractors and resulting in a net decrease in neural variability over trials. Importantly, non-responsive neurons also exhibit a reduction of variability. Finally, this reduced variability is found to arise from an increased regularity of the neural spike trains. In conclusion, these results suggest that the variability reduction under stimulation and attention is a property of neural circuits.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1002395
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes

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