Activity in cortical networks is heterogeneous, sparse and often precisely timed. The functional significance of sparseness and precise spike timing is debated, but our understanding of the developmental and synaptic mechanisms that shape neuronal discharge patterns has improved. Evidence for highly specialized, selective and abstract cortical response properties is accumulating. Singe-cell stimulation experiments demonstrate a high sensitivity of cortical networks to the action potentials of some, but not all, single neurons. It is unclear how this sensitivity of cortical networks to small perturbations comes about and whether it is a generic property of cortex. The unforeseen sensitivity to cortical spikes puts serious constraints on the nature of neural coding schemes.

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Keywords 4 aminobutyric acid A receptor, action potential, brain cortex, brain function, cell stimulation, evoked response, human, hypothalamus ventromedial nucleus, nonhuman, olfactory cortex, postsynaptic potential, priority journal, pyramidal nerve cell, review, sensitivity analysis, somatosensory cortex, spike, synapse, synaptic potential, temporal lobe, thalamocortical tract, vibrissa, visual cortex
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Journal Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Grant This work was funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme; grant id fp7/215910 - BIOmimetic Technology for vibrissal ACtive Touch (BIOTACT)
Wolfe, J, Houweling, A.R, & Brecht, M. (2010). Sparse and powerful cortical spikes. Current Opinion in Neurobiology (Vol. 20, pp. 306–312). doi:10.1016/j.conb.2010.03.006