Traveling waves shape neural computations in vision

Lyle Muller
  1. Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone (INT), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Marseille, France
  2. Brain and Mind Institute + Department of Applied Mathematics, Middlesex College Rm 255, Western University, 1151 Richmond St, London ON Canada

New recording technologies allow neuroscientists to record from cortex with high spatial and temporal resolution. For the first time, we can visualize the complex activity patterns in cortical populations during natural sensory behaviors. Because these imaging experiments occur in intact biological systems, however, certain restrictions are inevitable. In particular, the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) remains low relative to other scientific imaging domains.

In our research, we have developed new signal processing techniques to analyze nonlinear waves in high-noise multisite data. With these tools, we have found unexpected structure in the dynamics of cortical populations during natural sensory behavior. First, we found that small visual stimuli evoke far-reaching propagating waves in the awake monkey. In recent work, we have found that spontaneous, internally-generated traveling waves modulate sensitivity to visual stimuli in the awake marmoset. These results indicate that traveling waves shape neural computations during normal vision and have more general implications for the way we think about noise in the brain.