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Publication Detail
Advantages and detection of phase coding in the absence of rhythmicity.
The encoding of information in spike phase relative to local field potential (LFP) oscillations offers several theoretical advantages over equivalent firing rate codes. One notable example is provided by place and grid cells in the rodent hippocampal formation, which exhibit phase precession-firing at progressively earlier phases of the 6-12 Hz movement-related theta rhythm as their spatial firing fields are traversed. It is often assumed that such phase coding relies on a high amplitude baseline oscillation with relatively constant frequency. However, sustained oscillations with fixed frequency are generally absent in LFP and spike train recordings from the human brain. Hence, we examine phase coding relative to LFP signals with broadband low-frequency (2-20 Hz) power but without regular rhythmicity. We simulate a population of grid cells that exhibit phase precession against a baseline oscillation recorded from depth electrodes in human hippocampus. We show that this allows grid cell firing patterns to multiplex information about location, running speed and movement direction, alongside an arbitrary fourth variable encoded in LFP frequency. This is of particular importance given recent demonstrations that movement direction, which is essential for path integration, cannot be recovered from head direction cell firing rates. In addition, we investigate how firing phase might reduce errors in decoded location, including those arising from differences in firing rate across grid fields. Finally, we describe analytical methods that can identify phase coding in the absence of high amplitude LFP oscillations with approximately constant frequency, as in single unit recordings from the human brain and consistent with recent data from the flying bat. We note that these methods could also be used to detect phase coding outside of the spatial domain, and that multi-unit activity can substitute for the LFP signal. In summary, we demonstrate that the computational advantages offered by phase coding are not contingent on, and can be detected without, regular rhythmicity in neural activity.
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