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Neural Computation

July 2007, Vol. 19, No. 7, Pages 1766-1797
(doi: 10.1162/neco.2007.19.7.1766)
© 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Extracting Number-Selective Responses from Coherent Oscillations in a Computer Model
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Cortical neurons selective for numerosity may underlie an innate number sense in both animals and humans. We hypothesize that the number- selective responses of cortical neurons may in part be extracted from coherent, object-specific oscillations . Here, indirect evidence for this hypothesis is obtained by analyzing the numerosity information encoded by coherent oscillations in artificially generated spikes trains. Several experiments report that gamma-band oscillations evoked by the same object remain coherent, whereas oscillations evoked by separate objects are uncorrelated. Because the oscillations arising from separate objects would add in random phase to the total power summed across all stimulated neurons, we postulated that the total gamma activity, normalized by the number of spikes, should fall roughly as the square root of the number of objects in the scene, thereby implicitly encoding numerosity. To test the hypothesis, we examined the normalized gamma activity in multiunit spike trains, 50 to 1000 msec in duration, produced by a model feedback circuit previously shown to generate realistic coherent oscillations. In response to images containing different numbers of objects, regardless of their shape, size, or shading, the normalized gamma activity followed a square-root-of-n rule as long as the separation between objects was sufficiently large and their relative size and contrast differences were not too great. Arrays of winner-take-all numerosity detectors, each responding to normalized gamma activity within a particular band, exhibited tuning curves consistent with behavioral data. We conclude that coherent oscillations in principle could contribute to the number-selective responses of cortical neurons, although many critical issues await experimental resolution.