Dynamic population coding in primary visual cortex

Diego Gutnisky, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


More than a century ago Ramon y Cajal pioneered the description of neural circuits. Currently, new techniques are being developed to streamline the characterization of entire neural circuits. Even if this 'connectome' approach is successful, it will represent only a static description of neural circuits. Thus, a fundamental question in neuroscience is to understand how information is dynamically represented by neural populations. In this thesis, I studied two main aspects of dynamical population codes. First, I studied how the exposure or adaptation, for a fraction of a second to oriented gratings dynamically changes the population response of primary visual cortex neurons. The effects of adaptation to oriented gratings have been extensively explored in psychophysical and electrophysiological experiments. However, whether rapid adaptation might induce a change in the primary visual cortex's functional connectivity to dynamically impact the population coding accuracy is currently unknown. To address this issue, we performed multi-electrode recordings in primary visual cortex, where adaptation has been previously shown to induce changes in the selectivity and response amplitude of individual neurons. We found that adaptation improves the population coding accuracy. The improvement was more prominent for iso- and orthogonal orientation adaptation, consistent with previously reported psychophysical experiments. We propose that selective decorrelation is a metabolically inexpensive mechanism that the visual system employs to dynamically adapt the neural responses to the statistics of the input stimuli to improve coding efficiency. Second, I investigated how ongoing activity modulates orientation coding in single neurons, neural populations and behavior. Cortical networks are never silent even in the absence of external stimulation. The ongoing activity can account for up to 80% of the metabolic energy consumed by the brain. Thus, a fundamental question is to understand the functional role of ongoing activity and its impact on neural computations. I studied how the orientation coding by individual neurons and cell populations in primary visual cortex depend on the spontaneous activity before stimulus presentation. We hypothesized that since the ongoing activity of nearby neurons is strongly correlated, it would influence the ability of the entire population of orientation-selective cells to process orientation depending on the prestimulus spontaneous state. Our findings demonstrate that ongoing activity dynamically filters incoming stimuli to shape the accuracy of orientation coding by individual neurons and cell populations and this interaction affects behavioral performance. In summary, this thesis is a contribution to the study of how dynamic internal states such as rapid adaptation and ongoing activity modulate the population code accuracy.

Subject Area

Neurobiology|Behavioral Sciences

Recommended Citation

Gutnisky, Diego, "Dynamic population coding in primary visual cortex" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3383831.