Local Fields of the Hippocampus: More than Meets the Eye


A standard methodology in systems neuroscience is to establish correlations between the brain and the world. These correlations have been robustly observed when probing the activity of single neurons. For example, there are cells that activate vigorously when subjects are presented with images of certain celebrities (e.g. the “Jennifer Aniston” neuron, Quiroga et al., 2005). While single neuron measurements provide remarkable insights into the functional specificity of different brain areas, it remains unclear how single cell activity arises from, and contributes to, the collective activity of brain networks. New technologies allow for the simultaneous recording of spikes from hundreds of cells, yet we are still far from observing entire neuronal circuits in action. An alternative approach in monitoring neuronal populations is to measure local field potentials (LFPs). These potentials arise from the coordinated activity of thousands of nearby neurons. LFPs often exhibit oscillations of various frequencies, which correlate with different states of awareness, such as alertness, relaxation, or drowsiness. However, establishing correlations between LFPs and specific behavioral events can be challenging, because the contributions of different neurons to the LFP usually cannot be distinguished. In this chapter, we examine LFPs recorded from the rat hippocampus. At first glance, these LFPs appear to bear little relation to the subject’s changing environment. However, through appropriate signal processing, we find that carried in the structure of the LFP is a remarkably precise stream of information.

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