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The origin, control and behavioral impact of cortical variability
(Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain)
In the sensory areas of the brain the neuronal responses to a particular stimulus often vary considerably from one trial to the next. Does this cortical variability play a functional role in the behaving animal, and, if so, can it be controlled? In my talk I will address these questions in the context of a visual discrimination task. We have used local field potentials simultaneously recorded from multiple visual areas to characterize the stimulus-evoked cortical variability. We show that a decrease in the variability is correlated with an improvement in performance. Through a theoretical analysis we substantiate the claim that the behavioral improvement is partially caused by the reduction in variability. Finally, our data demonstrates one cause of trial-to-trial variability and suggests a mechanism through which this variability can be modulated.