How to Describe Neuronal Activity: Spikes, Rates, or Assemblies?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 6 (NIPS 1993)

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Wulfram Gerstner, J. van Hemmen


What is the 'correct' theoretical description of neuronal activity? The analysis of the dynamics of a globally connected network of spiking neurons (the Spike Response Model) shows that a descrip(cid:173) tion by mean firing rates is possible only if active neurons fire in(cid:173) coherently. If firing occurs coherently or with spatio-temporal cor(cid:173) relations, the spike structure of the neural code becomes relevant. Alternatively, neurons can be gathered into local or distributed en(cid:173) sembles or 'assemblies'. A description based on the mean ensemble activity is, in principle, possible but the interaction between differ(cid:173) ent assemblies becomes highly nonlinear. A description with spikes should therefore be preferred.