Synchronous firing among the elements of forming circuits is critical for stabilization of synapses. Understanding the nature of these local network interactions during development can inform models of circuit formation. Within cortex, spontaneous activity changes throughout development. Unlike the adult, early spontaneous activity occurs in discontinuous population bursts separated by long silent periods, suggesting a high degree of local synchrony. However, whether the micro-patterning of activity within early bursts is unique to this early age and specifically tuned for early development is poorly understood, particularly within the column. To study this we used single-shank multi-electrode array recordings of spontaneous activity in the visual cortex of non-anesthetized neonatal mice to quantify single-unit firing rates, and applied multiple measures of network interaction and synchrony throughout the period of map formation and immediately after eye-opening. We find that despite co-modulation of firing rates on a slow time scale (hundreds of ms), the number of coactive neurons, as well as pair-wise neural spike-rate correlations, are both lower before eye-opening. In fact, on post-natal days (P)6-9 correlated activity was lower than expected by chance, suggesting active decorrelation of activity during early bursts. Neurons in lateral geniculate nucleus developed in an opposite manner, becoming less correlated after eye-opening. Population coupling, a measure of integration in the local network, revealed a population of neurons with particularly strong local coupling present at P6-11, but also an adult-like diversity of coupling at all ages, suggesting that a neuron's identity as locally or distally coupled is determined early. The occurrence probabilities of unique neuronal "words" were largely similar at all ages suggesting that retinal waves drive adult-like patterns of co-activation. These findings suggest that the bursts of spontaneous activity during early visual development do not drive hyper-synchronous activity within columns. Rather, retinal waves provide windows of potential activation during which neurons are active but poorly correlated, adult-like patterns of correlation are achieved soon after eye-opening.
Keywords: development; oscillation; retinal wave; spindle-burst; spontaneous activity; synchronization; visual cortex.