Cortical feedback pathways are hypothesized to distribute context-dependent signals during flexible behavior. Recent experimental work has attempted to understand the mechanisms by which cortical feedback inputs modulate their target regions. Within the mouse whisker sensorimotor system, cortical feedback stimulation modulates spontaneous activity and sensory responsiveness, leading to enhanced sensory representations. However, the cellular mechanisms underlying these effects are currently unknown. In this study we use a simplified neural circuit model, which includes two recurrent excitatory populations and global inhibition, to simulate cortical modulation. First, we demonstrate how changes in the strengths of excitation and inhibition alter the input-output processing responses of our model. Second, we compare these responses with experimental findings from cortical feedback stimulation. Our analyses predict that enhanced inhibition underlies the changes in spontaneous and sensory evoked activity observed experimentally. More generally, these analyses provide a framework for relating cellular and synaptic properties to emergent circuit function and dynamic modulation.
Keywords: cortical circuit; cortical feedback; inhibition; neuromodulation; sensorimotor; top-down.