Research ArticleNEUROSCIENCE

Modulation of intercolumnar synchronization by endogenous electric fields in cerebral cortex

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Science Advances  03 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 10, eabc7772
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc7772


Neurons synaptically interacting in a conductive medium generate extracellular endogenous electric fields (EFs) that reciprocally affect membrane potential. Exogenous EFs modulate neuronal activity, and their clinical applications are being profusely explored. However, whether endogenous EFs contribute to network synchronization remains unclear. We analyzed spontaneously generated slow-wave activity in the cerebral cortex network in vitro, which allowed us to distinguish synaptic from nonsynaptic mechanisms of activity propagation and synchronization. Slow oscillations generated EFs that propagated independently of synaptic transmission. We demonstrate that cortical oscillations modulate spontaneous rhythmic activity of neighboring synaptically disconnected cortical columns if layers are aligned. We provide experimental evidence that these EF-mediated effects are compatible with electric dipoles. With a model of interacting dipoles, we reproduce the experimental measurements and predict that endogenous EF–mediated synchronizing effects should be relevant in the brain. Thus, experiments and models suggest that electric-dipole interactions contribute to synchronization of neighboring cortical columns.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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