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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal PloS one
Volume (Issue) 10(7)
Page(s) 0132906 - 0132906
Title of proceedings PloS one
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0132906

Open Access


Oscillations between high and low values of the membrane potential (UP and DOWN states respectively) are an ubiquitous feature of cortical neurons during slow wave sleep and anesthesia. Nevertheless, a surprisingly small number of quantitative studies have been conducted only that deal with this phenomenon's implications for computation. Here we present a novel theory that explains on a detailed mathematical level the computational benefits of UP states. The theory is based on random sampling by means of interspike intervals (ISIs) of the exponential integrate and fire (EIF) model neuron, such that each spike is considered a sample, whose analog value corresponds to the spike's preceding ISI. As we show, the EIF's exponential sodium current, that kicks in when balancing a noisy membrane potential around values close to the firing threshold, leads to a particularly simple, approximative relationship between the neuron's ISI distribution and input current. Approximation quality depends on the frequency spectrum of the current and is improved upon increasing the voltage baseline towards threshold. Thus, the conceptually simpler leaky integrate and fire neuron that is missing such an additional current boost performs consistently worse than the EIF and does not improve when voltage baseline is increased. For the EIF in contrast, the presented mechanism is particularly effective in the high-conductance regime, which is a hallmark feature of UP-states. Our theoretical results are confirmed by accompanying simulations, which were conducted for input currents of varying spectral composition. Moreover, we provide analytical estimations of the range of ISI distributions the EIF neuron can sample from at a given approximation level. Such samples may be considered by any algorithmic procedure that is based on random sampling, such as Markov Chain Monte Carlo or message-passing methods. Finally, we explain how spike-based random sampling relates to existing computational theories about UP states during slow wave sleep and present possible extensions of the model in the context of spike-frequency adaptation.