The Emergence of Network Activity Patterns in the Somatosensory Cortex - An Early Window to Autism Spectrum Disorders

Neuroscience. 2021 Jul 1;466:298-309. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2021.04.005. Epub 2021 Apr 19.


Across mammalian species, patterned activity in neural populations is a prominent feature of developing sensory cortices. Numerous studies have long appreciated the diversity of these patterns, characterizing their differences in spatial and temporal dynamics. In the murine somatosensory cortex, neuronal co-activation is thought to guide the formation of sensory maps and prepare the cortex for sensory processing after birth. While pioneering studies deftly utilized slice electrophysiology and unit recordings to characterize correlated activity, a detailed understanding of the underlying circuits remains poorly understood. More recently, advances in in vivo calcium imaging in awake mouse pups and increasing genetic tractability of neuronal types have allowed unprecedented manipulation of circuit components at select developmental timepoints. These novel approaches have proven fundamental in uncovering the identity of neurons engaged in correlated activity during development. In particular, recent studies have highlighted interneurons as key in refining the spatial extent and temporal progression of patterned activity. Here, we discuss how emergent synchronous activity across the first postnatal weeks is shaped by underlying gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic contributors in the somatosensory cortex. Further, the importance of participation in specific activity patterns per se for neuronal maturation and perdurance will be of particular highlight in this survey of recent literature. Finally, we underscore how aberrant neuronal synchrony and disrupted inhibitory interneuron activity underlie sensory perturbations in neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), emphasizing the importance of future investigative approaches that incorporate the spatiotemporal features of patterned activity alongside the cellular components to probe disordered circuit assembly.

Keywords: GABA; barrel cortex; calcium imaging; development; interneurons; network activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder*
  • Interneurons
  • Mice
  • Neurogenesis
  • Neurons
  • Somatosensory Cortex*