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This article is part of the supplement: Sixteenth Annual Computational Neuroscience Meeting: CNS*2007

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Dynamical evolution of spatiotemporal patterns in mammalian middle cortex

Steven J Schiff1*, Xiaoying Huang2 and Jian-Young Wu2

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Neurosurgery, Engineering Sciences and Mechanics, and Physics, Penn State University, 212 Earth-Engineering Sciences Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA

2 Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC 20057, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2007, 8(Suppl 2):P61  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-8-S2-P61

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published:6 July 2007

© 2007 Schiff et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.


Neural systems think through patterns of activity. We have recently discovered that in an isotropic preparation of tangential slices of the middle cortical layers of mammalian brain, spontaneously organizing episodes of activity demonstrate a dynamical evolution: such episodes initiate with irregular and chaotic wave activity, followed by the frequent emergence of plane and spiral waves, and terminate with the recurrence of irregular wave patterns [1].


We have employed techniques drawn from experimental fluid dynamics to better understand these phenomena. In voltage sensitive dye imaging from fields of neurons, we applied an empirical eigenfunction approach, using singular value decomposition (SVD) in both amplitude and spatial frequency domain.


The temporal structure of such modes emphasize the crystalline nature of the brain lattice – neurons are fixed in space, and 'wave' activity is a function of the phase relationships of the firing neurons. Calculating the effective dimensionality as in [2] we find that the dynamics tend to concentrate into a small number of dominant coherent modes as these episodes organize, and then disseminate onto a larger number of modes prior to termination.

For modes composed of voltage amplitude or spatial frequency, the dynamics of these phenomena show a monotonic and significant decrease in dimension during the middle of the events (ANOVA: amplitude, F = 1950, p < 0.00001; frequency, F = 2058, p < 0.00001), and post-hoc Tukey multiple comparison testing confirms that there is a significant decrease in dimensionality during the middle of these episodes.


This analysis demonstrates that a key factor in this dimensional evolution is not the appearance of qualitative spirals or plane waves, but rather depends on more subtle features within the interactions of these neurons. Further work to define the relevant order parameters that control the evolution of these spatiotemporal dynamics will lead to a better understanding of cortical information processing.


Supported by NIH grants R01MH50006, K02MH01493, R01NS036447.


  1. Huang X, Troy WC, Yang Q, Ma H, Laing CR, Schiff SJ, Wu J-Y: Spiral waves in disinhibited mammalian cortex.

    J Neurosci 2004, 24:9897-9902. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text OpenURL

  2. Sirovich L: Chaotic dynamics of coherent structures.

    Physica D 1989, 37:126-145. Publisher Full Text OpenURL