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Finding the event structure of neuronal spike trains

Neurons in sensory systems convey information about physical stimuli in their spike trains. In vitro, single neurons respond precisely and reliably to the repeated injection of the same fluctuating current, producing regions of elevated firing rate, termed events. Analysis of these spike trains reveals that multiple distinct spike patterns can be identified as trial-to-trial correlations between spike times [1]. Finding events in data with realistic spiking statistics is challenging because events belonging to different spike patterns may overlap. We propose a method for finding spiking events that uses contextual information to disambiguate which pattern a trial belongs to. The procedure can be applied to spike trains of the same neuron across multiple trials to detect and separate responses obtained during different brain states. The procedure can also be applied to spike trains from multiple simultaneously recorded neurons in order to identify volleys of near synchronous activity or to distinguish between excitatory and inhibitory neurons. The procedure was tested using artificial data as well as recordings in vitro in response to fluctuating current waveforms.


  1. Fellous JM, Tiesinga PHE, Thomas PJ, Sejnowski TJ: Discovering Spike Patterns in Neuronal Responses. Journal of Neurosci. 2004, 24: 2989-3001. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4649-03.2004.

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This research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (R01-MH68481); the Human Frontier Science Program (JVT & PHT); the National Science Foundation (DMS-0720142) (PJT), and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (TJS). PJT acknowledges research support from the Oberlin College Library.

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Correspondence to Paul H Tiesinga.

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Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( ), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Toups, V.J., Fellous, JM., Thomas, P.J. et al. Finding the event structure of neuronal spike trains. BMC Neurosci 12 (Suppl 1), P333 (2011).

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