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A giant interneuron for sparse coding
Date:5/13/2011

o the Kenyon cells manage to respond only extremely rarely, and with a sparseness that varies little over large ranges of stimulation conditions? Gilles Laurent of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and his group found that a single giant interneuron plays a key role. Along with colleagues in his lab (formerly at Caltech) and Great Britain, he has discovered that this neuron, with its extensive arbour, is activated by the entire Kenyon cell population and in turn inhibits them all back. "The giant interneuron and the Kenyon cells form a simple negative feed-back loop: the more strongly it is activated by the Kenyon cell population, the more strongly it curtails their activity in return", explains Laurent. The interneuron itself does not generate any action potentials, but inhibits Kenyon cells via nonspiking and graded release of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). This smooth, graded property enables this giant interneuron to do a kind of real-time, population averaging, thus carrying out an operation that might otherwise require the involvement of hundreds or thousands of individual spiking neurons.

The effectiveness of the giant interneuron is such that it can actually turn off the Kenyon cell population completely. But the research team also discovered that the giant interneuron is, in turn, controlled by another inhibitory neuron. "This allows the network activity to be potentiated or attenuated, and the sensitivity of this feedback loop to be adjusted", says Gilles Laurent. This is an important feature for brain regions such as the mushroom bodies, which are responsible not only for olfactory processing, but also for learning and memory. Mushroom bodies are where smells can be associated with other sensory modalities, enabling the formation of complex representations.

The scientists' findings show how massive negative feed-back loops can be formed in neuronal networks and what roles they can play. In vertebrates, the
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Contact: Prof. Gilles Laurent
laurentg@brain.mpg.de
49-050-682-02020
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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A giant interneuron for sparse coding
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