Neuronal avalanches in spontaneous activity in vivo

J Neurophysiol. 2010 Dec;104(6):3312-22. doi: 10.1152/jn.00953.2009. Epub 2010 Jul 14.


Many complex systems give rise to events that are clustered in space and time, thereby establishing a correlation structure that is governed by power law statistics. In the cortex, such clusters of activity, called "neuronal avalanches," were recently found in local field potentials (LFPs) of spontaneous activity in acute cortex slices, slice cultures, the developing cortex of the anesthetized rat, and premotor and motor cortex of awake monkeys. At present, it is unclear whether neuronal avalanches also exist in the spontaneous LFPs and spike activity in vivo in sensory areas of the mature brain. To address this question, we recorded spontaneous LFPs and extracellular spiking activity with multiple 4 × 4 microelectrode arrays (Michigan Probes) in area 17 of adult cats under anesthesia. A cluster of events was defined as a consecutive sequence of time bins Δt (1-32 ms), each containing at least one LFP event or spike anywhere on the array. LFP cluster sizes consistently distributed according to a power law with a slope largely above -1.5. In two thirds of the corresponding experiments, spike clusters also displayed a power law that displayed a slightly steeper slope of -1.8 and was destroyed by subsampling operations. The power law in spike clusters was accompanied with stronger temporal correlations between spiking activities of neurons that spanned longer time periods compared with spike clusters lacking power law statistics. The results suggest that spontaneous activity of the visual cortex under anesthesia has the properties of neuronal avalanches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Anesthesia, General
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Microelectrodes
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*