Potential Mechanisms and Functions of Intermittent Neural Synchronization

Front Comput Neurosci. 2017 May 30;11:44. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2017.00044. eCollection 2017.


Neural synchronization is believed to play an important role in different brain functions. Synchrony in cortical and subcortical circuits is frequently variable in time and not perfect. Few long intervals of desynchronized dynamics may be functionally different from many short desynchronized intervals although the average synchrony may be the same. Recent analysis of imperfect synchrony in different neural systems reported one common feature: neural oscillations may go out of synchrony frequently, but primarily for a short time interval. This study explores potential mechanisms and functional advantages of this short desynchronizations dynamics using computational neuroscience techniques. We show that short desynchronizations are exhibited in coupled neurons if their delayed rectifier potassium current has relatively large values of the voltage-dependent activation time-constant. The delayed activation of potassium current is associated with generation of quickly-rising action potential. This "spikiness" is a very general property of neurons. This may explain why very different neural systems exhibit short desynchronization dynamics. We also show how the distribution of desynchronization durations may be independent of the synchronization strength. Finally, we show that short desynchronization dynamics requires weaker synaptic input to reach a pre-set synchrony level. Thus, this dynamics allows for efficient regulation of synchrony and may promote efficient formation of synchronous neural assemblies.

Keywords: delayed-rectifier potassium current; intermittency; neural assemblies; neural oscillations; neural synchrony.