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Neural Computation

July 2009, Vol. 21, No. 7, Pages 1931-1951
(doi: 10.1162/neco.2009.08-08-841)
© 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Estimating Instantaneous Irregularity of Neuronal Firing
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Cortical neurons in vivo had been regarded as Poisson spike generators that convey no information other than the rate of random firing. Recently, using a metric for analyzing local variation of interspike intervals, researchers have found that individual neurons express specific patterns in generating spikes, which may symbolically be termed regular, random, or bursty, rather invariantly in time. In order to study the dynamics of firing patterns in greater detail, we propose here a Bayesian method for estimating firing irregularity and the firing rate simultaneously for a given spike sequence, and we implement an algorithm that may render the empirical Bayesian estimation practicable for data comprising a large number of spikes. Application of this method to electrophysiological data revealed a subtle correlation between the degree of firing irregularity and the firing rate for individual neurons. Irregularity of firing did not deviate greatly around the low degree of dependence on the firing rate and remained practically unchanged for individual neurons in the cortical areas V1 and MT, whereas it fluctuated greatly in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus. This indicates the presence and absence of autocontrolling mechanisms for maintaining patterns of firing in the cortex and thalamus, respectively.