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Published May 1, 1994 | Published
Journal Article Open

Power spectrum analysis of bursting cells in area MT in the behaving monkey


It is widely held that visual cortical neurons encode information primarily in their mean firing rates. Some proposals, however, emphasize the information potentially available in the temporal structure of spike trains (Optican and Richmond, 1987; Bialek et al., 1991), in particular with respect to stimulus-related synchronized oscillations in the 30–70 Hz range (Eckhorn et al., 1988; Gray et al., 1989; Kreiter and Singer, 1992) as well as via bursting cells (Cattaneo et al., 1981a; Bonds, 1992). We investigate the temporal fine structure of spike trains recorded in extrastriate area MT of the trained macaque monkey, a region that plays a major role in processing motion information. The data were recorded while the monkey performed a near- threshold direction discrimination task so that both physiological and psychophysical data could be obtained on the same set of trials (Britten et al., 1992). We identify bursting cells and quantify their properties, in particular in relation to the behavior of the animal. We compute the power spectrum and the distribution of interspike intervals (ISIs) associated with individual spike trains from 212 cells, averaging these quantities across similar trials. (1) About 33% of the cells have a relatively flat power spectrum with a dip at low temporal frequencies. We analytically derive the power spectrum of a Poisson process with refractory period and show that it matches the observed spectrum of these cells. (2) About 62% of the cells have a peak in the 20–60 Hz frequency band. In about 10% of all cells, this peak is at least twice the height of its base. The presence of such a peak strongly correlates with a tendency of the cell to respond in bursts, that is, two to four spikes within 2–8 msec. For 93% of cells, the shape of the power spectrum did not change dramatically with stimulus conditions. (3) Both the ISI distribution and the power spectrum of the vast majority of bursting cells are compatible with the notion that these cells fire Poisson-distributed bursts, with a burst-related refractory period. Thus, for our stimulus conditions, no explicitly oscillating neuronal process is required to yield a peak in the power spectrum. (4) We found no statistically significant relationship between the peak in the power spectrum and psychophysical measures of the monkeys' performance on the direction discrimination task.

Additional Information

© 1994 by Society for Neuroscience. Received June 21, 1993 ; Revised Oct. 20, 1993 ; Accepted Oct. 26, 1993. We thank a number of individuals with whom we discussed these findings over the last two years, in particular Francis Crick, Joel Franklin, Ehud Zohary, and William Softky. This work was supported by the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, the National Eye Institute, and the McDonnell-Pew Program in Cognitive Neuroscience. W.B. received support from a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and is now supported by the L. A. Hanson Foundation. K.B. received support from an NIMH training grant to the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford University.

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September 14, 2023
September 14, 2023