The asynchronous state's relation to large-scale potentials in cortex

J Neurophysiol. 2019 Dec 1;122(6):2206-2219. doi: 10.1152/jn.00013.2019. Epub 2019 Oct 23.


Understanding the relation between large-scale potentials (M/EEG) and their underlying neural activity can improve the precision of research and clinical diagnosis. Recent insights into cortical dynamics highlighted a state of strongly reduced spike count correlations, termed the asynchronous state (AS). The AS has received considerable attention from experimenters and theorists alike, regarding its implications for cortical dynamics and coding of information. However, how reconcilable are these vanishing correlations in the AS with large-scale potentials such as M/EEG observed in most experiments? Typically the latter are assumed to be based on underlying correlations in activity, in particular between subthreshold potentials. We survey the occurrence of the AS across brain states, regions, and layers and argue for a reconciliation of this seeming disparity: large-scale potentials are either observed, first, at transitions between cortical activity states, which entail transient changes in population firing rate, as well as during the AS, and, second, on the basis of sufficiently large, asynchronous populations that only need to exhibit weak correlations in activity. Cells with no or little spiking activity can contribute to large-scale potentials via their subthreshold currents, while they do not contribute to the estimation of spiking correlations, defining the AS. Furthermore, third, the AS occurs only within particular cortical regions and layers associated with the currently selected modality, allowing for correlations at other times and between other areas and layers.

Keywords: EEG; MEG; cognitive state; correlations; population activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cortical Synchronization / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography*