Bursts as a unit of neural information: selective communication via resonance

Trends in Neuroscience (2003) 26:3:161-167

Eugene M. Izhikevich, Niraj S. Desai, Elisabeth C. Walcott, Frank C. Hoppensteadt

The Neurosciences Institute,
10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive,
San Diego, CA, 92121.

Abstract. What is the functional significance of generating a burst of spikes, as opposed to a single spike? A dominant point of view is that bursts are needed to increase the reliability of communication between neurons. Here we discuss an alternative but complementary hypothesis: Bursts with certain resonant interspike frequencies are more likely to cause a postsynaptic cell to fire than bursts with higher or lower frequencies. Such a frequency preference might occur at the level of individual synapses due to the interplay between short-term synaptic depression and facilitation, or at the postsynaptic cell level because of subthreshold membrane potential oscillations and resonance. As a result, the same burst could resonate for some synapses or cells and not resonate for others depending on their natural frequencies. This observation suggests that, in addition to increasing reliability of synaptic transmission, bursts of action potentials may provide effective mechanisms for selective communication among neurons.

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