Burst firing is a neural code in an insect auditory system

Eyherabide, Hugo G.
Rokem, Ariel
Herz, Andreas V. M.
Samengo, Ines
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Various classes of neurons alternate between high-frequency discharges and silent intervals. This phenomenon is called burst firing. To analyze burst activity in an insect system, grasshopper auditory receptor neurons were recorded in vivo for several distinct stimulus types. The experimental data show that both burst probability and burst characteristics are strongly influenced by temporal modulations of the acoustic stimulus. The tendency to burst, hence, is not only determined by cell-intrinsic processes, but also by their interaction with the stimulus time course. We study this interaction quantitatively and observe that bursts containing a certain number of spikes occur shortly after stimulus deflections of specific intensity and duration. Our findings suggest a sparse neural code where information about the stimulus is represented by the number of spikes per burst, irrespective of the detailed interspike-interval structure within a burst. This compact representation cannot be interpreted as a firing-rate code. An information-theoretical analysis reveals that the number of spikes per burst reliably conveys information about the amplitude and duration of sound transients, whereas their time of occurrence is reflected by the burst onset time. The investigated neurons encode almost half of the total transmitted information in burst activity.
Comment: 30 pages, 10 figures, 1 table. See published version in http://www.frontiersin.org/computationalneuroscience/paper/10.3389/neuro.10/003.2008/
Quantitative Biology - Neurons and Cognition