Slow covariations in neuronal resting potentials can lead to artefactually fast cross-correlations in their spike trains

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A model of two lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) cells, which interact only through slow (tens of seconds) covariations in their resting membrane potentials, is used here to investigate the effect of such covariations on cross-correlograms taken during stimulus-driven conditions. Despite the slow timescale of the interactions, the model generates cross-correlograms with peak widths in the range of 25-200 ms. These bear a striking resemblance to those reported in studies of LGN cells by Sillito et al., which were taken at the time as evidence of a fast spike timing synchronization interaction; the model highlights the possibility that those correlogram peaks may have been caused by a mechanism other than spike synchronization. Slow resting potential covariations are suggested instead as the dominant generating mechanism. How can a slow interaction generate covariogram peaks with a width 100-1,000 times thinner than its timescale? Broad peaks caused by slow interactions are modulated by the cells' poststimulus time histograms (PSTHs). When the PSTHs have thin peaks (e.g., tens of milliseconds), the cross-correlogram peaks generated by slow interactions will also be thin; such peaks are easily misinterpretable as being caused by fast interactions. Although this point is explored here in the context of LGN recordings, it is a general point and applies elsewhere. When cross-correlogram peak widths are of the same order of magnitude as PSTH peak widths, experiments designed to reveal short-timescale interactions must be interpreted with the issue of possible contributions from slower interactions in mind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3345-3351
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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