[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Thalamic relay cells fire bursts of action potentials. Once a long hyperpolarization "primes" (deinactivates) the T-type calcium channel, a depolarizing input will "trigger" a calcium spike with a burst of action potentials. During sleep, bursts are frequent, rhythmic, and nonvisual. Bursts have been observed in alert animals, and burst timing is known to carry visual information under light anesthesia. We extend this finding by showing that bursts without visual triggers are rare. Nevertheless, if the channel were primed at random with respect to the stimulus, then bursts would have the same visual significance as single spikes. We find, however, that visual signals influence when the channel is primed. First, natural time-varying stimuli evoke more bursts than white noise. Second, specific visual stimuli reproducibly elicit bursts, whereas others reliably elicit single spikes. Therefore, visual information is encoded by the selective tagging of some responses as bursts. The visual information attributable to visual priming (as distinct from the information attributable to visual triggering of the bursts) was two bits per burst on average. Although bursts are reportedly rare in alert animals, this must be investigated as a function of visual stimulus. Moreover, we propose methods to measure the extent of both visual triggering and visual priming of bursts. Whether or not bursts are rare, our methods could help determine whether bursts in alert animals carry a distinct visual signal.
Preview · Article · May 2005 · The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience