Research Topic

Burst coding: from cell to cognition

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Bursting is a firing mode of neurons in which they respond to and input with a group of high frequency action potentials, followed by a period of relative silence. These bursts can be generated intrinsically in neurons themselves, or they can be the result of network activity. Many different systems show a ...

Bursting is a firing mode of neurons in which they respond to and input with a group of high frequency action potentials, followed by a period of relative silence. These bursts can be generated intrinsically in neurons themselves, or they can be the result of network activity. Many different systems show a burst-firing mode next to a tonic-firing mode. Despite the ubiquity of bursting, the question of the functional properties of bursts remains unknown: why do some systems rely on bursts for their information transmission and what do bursts code for?

We encourage authors to contribute their expertise, both from experimental and from computational backgrounds, on this question on the fundamental properties of burst coding.

Papers should address one or more of the following issues:
1. Burst generation. How can different systems generate bursts? This includes both the single neuron level (active dendritic calcium, sodium dynamics, ‘ping-pong’ mechanisms) and the network level (synchronization, inhibition).
2. Differences between systems. In what brain areas of what animals do bursts occur (region CA3 of the rodent hippocampus, mammalian thalamus, weakly electric fish, insect auditory receptors), and what are the similarities/differences in the properties of these systems?
3. Detection and analysis of bursts. The detection of bursts is mostly done using inter-spike interval distributions or return maps; these give a typical inter-spike interval. Often, inter-spike intervals and spike amplitudes change over the course of a burst, making the last spikes in a burst hard to detect. This makes the analysis of burst challenging. Moreover, many traditional tools for the analysis of spike trains cannot be used to analyse spike trains that include bursts without some form of correction for it (reverse correlation techniques, Spike Coincidence Factor).
4. Information processing (burst coding). What are the functional information processing effects of bursts? These include decoding (resonance coding or inter-spike interval coding, burst duration coding), encoding (what stimulus features trigger bursts?), and other coding properties (reliability at unreliable synapses, feature detection for bursts versus stimulus estimation for single spikes, ‘wake-up call’ function of bursts).
5. Relation between bursts and pathology. The burst-firing mode of the thalamus has been associated with sleep and anaesthesia, and therefore with pathological conditions, before evidence showed that bursts also occur in awake states. Bursting in the subthalamic nucleus and globus pallidus is associated with Parkinson’s disease; high-frequency cortical oscillations are thought to be a hallmark of epilepsy, but their origins have been disputed. Are there more relations between the burst-firing mode and pathological conditions?
6. Relation between bursts and behaviour. Bursts of complex spike cells play an important functional role in hippocampal place cells. In the oculomotor system bursts play an important role in generating saccades. In weakly electric fish, bursts are a response to ‘communication-like’ stimuli, but not to ‘prey-like’ stimuli. Thalamic bursts have a much stronger effect on their cortical targets than single spikes. These results suggest that bursts can have a different signalling function then single spikes, often associated with different behaviour.


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Submission Deadlines

30 June 2016 Manuscript
16 December 2017 Manuscript Extension

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 June 2016 Manuscript
16 December 2017 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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