Relating neuronal firing patterns to functional differentiation of cerebral cortex.
It has been empirically established that the cerebral cortical areas defined by Brodmann one hundred years ago solely on the basis of cellular organization are closely correlated to their function, such as sensation, association, and motion. Cytoarchitectonically distinct cortical areas have different densities and types of neurons. Thus, signaling patterns may also vary among cytoarchitectonically unique cortical areas. To examine how neuronal signaling patterns are related to innate cortical functions, we detected intrinsic features of cortical firing by devising a metric that efficiently isolates non-Poisson irregular characteristics, independent of spike rate fluctuations that are caused extrinsically by ever-changing behavioral conditions. Using the new metric, we analyzed spike trains from over 1,000 neurons in 15 cortical areas sampled by eight independent neurophysiological laboratories. Analysis of firing-pattern dissimilarities across cortical areas revealed a gradient of firing regularity that corresponded closely to the functional category of the cortical area; neuronal spiking patterns are regular in motor areas, random in the visual areas, and bursty in the prefrontal area. Thus, signaling patterns may play an important role in function-specific cerebral cortical computation.