Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Biology and BioMed Central.

Journal App

google play app store
Open Access Open Badges Research article

Plumes of neuronal activity propagate in three dimensions through the nuclear avian brain

Gabriël JL Beckers12*, Jacqueline van der Meij1, John A Lesku13 and Niels C Rattenborg1*

Author Affiliations

1 Avian Sleep Group, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Eberhard-Gwinner-Strasse 11, 82319 Seewiesen, Germany

2 Cognitive Neurobiology and Helmholtz Institute, Departments of Psychology and Biology, Utrecht University, PO Box 80086, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands

3 Department of Zoology, La Trobe University, Kingsbury Drive, Melbourne VIC 3086, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Biology 2014, 12:16  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-12-16

Published: 28 February 2014



In mammals, the slow-oscillations of neuronal membrane potentials (reflected in the electroencephalogram as high-amplitude, slow-waves), which occur during non-rapid eye movement sleep and anesthesia, propagate across the neocortex largely as two-dimensional traveling waves. However, it remains unknown if the traveling nature of slow-waves is unique to the laminar cytoarchitecture and associated computational properties of the neocortex.


We demonstrate that local field potential slow-waves and correlated multiunit activity propagate as complex three-dimensional plumes of neuronal activity through the avian brain, owing to its non-laminar, nuclear neuronal cytoarchitecture.


The traveling nature of slow-waves is not dependent upon the laminar organization of the neocortex, and is unlikely to subserve functions unique to this pattern of neuronal organization. Finally, the three-dimensional geometry of propagating plumes may reflect computational properties not found in mammals that contributed to the evolution of nuclear neuronal organization and complex cognition in birds.

Sleep; Slow waves; Propagation; Travelling; Bird; Cortex