follow the beat

ScienceDaily has an item on a paper by R. Canolty and others from the Carmena lab, Oscillatory phase coupling coordinates anatomically dispersed functional cell assemblies. (here)

They looked at data accumulated in other research over a number of years and analyzed the recordings to try to find linkages between firing frequencies. Here is the abstract:

Hebb proposed that neuronal cell assemblies are critical for effective perception, cognition, and action. However, evidence for brain mechanisms that coordinate multiple coactive assemblies remains lacking. Neuronal oscillations have been suggested as one possible mechanism for cell assembly coordination. Prior studies have shown that spike timing depends upon local field potential (LFP) phase proximal to the cell body, but few studies have examined the dependence of spiking on distal LFP phases in other brain areas far from the neuron or the influence of LFP–LFP phase coupling between distal areas on spiking. We investigated these interactions by recording LFPs and single-unit activity using multiple microelectrode arrays in several brain areas and then used a unique probabilistic multivariate phase distribution to model the dependence of spike timing on the full pattern of proximal LFP phases, distal LFP phases, and LFP–LFP phase coupling between electrodes. Here we show that spiking activity in single neurons and neuronal ensembles depends on dynamic patterns of oscillatory phase coupling between multiple brain areas, in addition to the effects of proximal LFP phase. Neurons that prefer similar patterns of phase coupling exhibit similar changes in spike rates, whereas neurons with different preferences show divergent responses, providing a basic mechanism to bind different neurons together into coordinated cell assemblies. Surprisingly, phase-coupling–based rate correlations are independent of interneuron distance. Phase-coupling preferences correlate with behavior and neural function and remain stable over multiple days. These findings suggest that neuronal oscillations enable selective and dynamic control of distributed functional cell assemblies.

And here is an analogy, making the general picture easier to imagine:

“It is like the radio communication between emergency first responders at an earthquake,” Canolty said. “You have many people spread out over a large area, and the police need to be able to talk to each other on the radio to coordinate their action without interfering with the firefighters, and the firefighters need to be able to communicate without disrupting the EMTs. So each group tunes into and uses a different radio frequency, providing each group with an independent channel of communication despite the fact that they are spatially spread out and overlapping.”

For example, the high-beta band — 25 to 40 hertz (cycles per second) — was especially important for brain areas involved in motor control and planning. Other ‘channels’ would be used by other functions.