Understanding how neural activity in sensory cortices relates to perception is a central theme of neuroscience. Action potentials of sensory cortical neurons can be strongly correlated to properties of sensory stimuli and reflect the subjective judgements of an individual about stimuli. Microstimulation experiments have established a direct link from sensory activity to behaviour, suggesting that small neuronal populations can influence sensory decisions. However, microstimulation does not allow identification and quantification of the stimulated cellular elements. The sensory impact of individual cortical neurons therefore remains unknown. Here we show that stimulation of single neurons in somatosensory cortex affects behavioural responses in a detection task. We trained rats to respond to microstimulation of barrel cortex at low current intensities. We then initiated short trains of action potentials in single neurons by juxtacellular stimulation. Animals responded significantly more often in single-cell stimulation trials than in catch trials without stimulation. Stimulation effects varied greatly between cells, and on average in 5% of trials a response was induced. Whereas stimulation of putative excitatory neurons led to weak biases towards responding, stimulation of putative inhibitory neurons led to more variable and stronger sensory effects. Reaction times for single-cell stimulation were long and variable. Our results demonstrate that single neuron activity can cause a change in the animal's detection behaviour, suggesting a much sparser cortical code for sensations than previously anticipated.

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Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature06447, hdl.handle.net/1765/28940
Citation
Houweling, A.R., & Brecht, M.. (2008). Behavioural report of single neuron stimulation in somatosensory cortex. Nature: international weekly journal of science, 451(7174), 65–68. doi:10.1038/nature06447