The impact of synchrony and adaptation on signal detection

The role of synchrony in coding has long been debated. In particular, it is not clear if information can be conveyed through tightly coordinated spiking of groups of cells. I just caught up with this paper by Wang, et al  on how adaptation can modulate thalamic synchrony to increase the discriminability of signals. They stimulated the whiskers of anesthetized rats and recorded responses both in the thalamus and the part of the cortex to which these neurons project. They noticed that these cell will strongly adapt to stimulation. After adaptation it became more difficult to detect a stimulus, but it also became easier to discriminate between different stimuli. In other words, the range of responses (as measured by the total activity, ie number of spikes in the cortical region) became more discernible after adaptation. Surprisingly, the activity in the thalamus did not change in the same way after adaptation. However, the level of synchrony in the response of the thalamic cells displayed a higher diversity after adaptation. This translated into larger discriminability downstream.

Randy Bruno has a nice review of the role of synchrony, which gives an overview of the results of this paper

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