Arousal increases the representational capacity of cortical tissue

Arousal patently transforms the faculties of complex organisms. Although typical changes in cortical activity such as seen in EEG and LFP measurements are associated with change in state of arousal, it remains unclear what in the constitution of such state dependent activity enables this profound enhancement of ability. We put forward the hypothesis that arousal modulates cortical activity by rendering it more fit to represent information. We argue that representational capacity is of a dual nature—it requires not only that cortical tissue generate complex activity (i.e. spatiotemporal neuronal events), but also a complex cortical activity space (which is comprised of such spatiotemporal events). We explain that the topological notion of complexity—homology—is the pertinent measure of the complexity of neuronal activity spaces, as homological structure indicates not only the degree to which underlying activity is inherently clustered but also registers the effective dimensionality of the configurations formed by such clusters. Changes of this sort in the structure of cortical activity spaces can serve as the basis of the enhanced capacity to make perceptual/behavioral distinctions brought about by arousal. To show the feasibility of these ideas, we analyzed voltage sensitive dye imaging (VSDI) data acquired from primate visual cortex in disparate states of arousal. Our results lend some support to the theory: first as arousal increased so did the complexity of activity (that is the complexity of VSDI movies). Moreover, the complexity of structure of activity space (that is VSDI movie space) as measured by persistent homology—a multi scale topological measure of complexity—increased with arousal as well.

Authors: Fekete T, Pitowsky I, Grinvald A, Omer DB
Year of publication: 2009
Journal: Journal of Computational Neuroscience, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 211–227

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