The emergence of Up and Down states in cortical networks

PLoS Comput Biol. 2006 Mar;2(3):e23. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020023. Epub 2006 Mar 24.


The cerebral cortex is continuously active in the absence of external stimuli. An example of this spontaneous activity is the voltage transition between an Up and a Down state, observed simultaneously at individual neurons. Since this phenomenon could be of critical importance for working memory and attention, its explanation could reveal some fundamental properties of cortical organization. To identify a possible scenario for the dynamics of Up-Down states, we analyze a reduced stochastic dynamical system that models an interconnected network of excitatory neurons with activity-dependent synaptic depression. The model reveals that when the total synaptic connection strength exceeds a certain threshold, the phase space of the dynamical system contains two attractors, interpreted as Up and Down states. In that case, synaptic noise causes transitions between the states. Moreover, an external stimulation producing a depolarization increases the time spent in the Up state, as observed experimentally. We therefore propose that the existence of Up-Down states is a fundamental and inherent property of a noisy neural ensemble with sufficiently strong synaptic connections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nerve Net*
  • Neural Pathways
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Synapses