The developing barrel cortex reveals a rich repertoire of neuronal activity patterns, which have been also found in other sensory neocortical areas and in other species including the somatosensory cortex of preterm human infants. The earliest stage is characterized by asynchronous, sparse single-cell firing at low frequencies. During the second stage neurons show correlated firing, which is initially mediated by electrical synapses and subsequently transforms into network bursts depending on chemical synapses. Activity patterns during this second stage are synchronous plateau assemblies, delta waves, spindle bursts and early gamma oscillations (EGOs). In newborn rodents spindle bursts and EGOs occur spontaneously or can be elicited by sensory stimulation and synchronize the activity in a barrel-related columnar network with topographic organization at the day of birth. Interfering with this early activity causes a disturbance in the development of the cortical architecture, indicating that spindle bursts and EGOs influence the formation of cortical columns. Early neuronal activity also controls the rate of programed cell death in the developing barrel cortex, suggesting that spindle bursts and EGOs are physiological activity patterns particularly suited to suppress apoptosis. It remains to be studied in more detail how these different neocortical activity patterns control early developmental processes such as formation of synapses, microcircuits, topographic maps and large-scale networks.
Keywords: GABA; development; review; rodents; sensory-evoked activity; spontaneous activity.
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