Biological Cybernetics

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 1-11

First online:

On the significance of correlations among neuronal spike trains

  • G. PalmAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Biologische Kybernetik
  • , A. M. H. J. AertsenAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Biologische Kybernetik
  • , G. L. GersteinAffiliated withDepartment of Physiology, University of Pennsylvania

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We consider several measures for the correlation of firing activity among different neurons, based on coincidence counts obtained from simultaneously recorded spike trains. We obtain explicit formulae for the probability distributions of these measures. This allows an exact, quantitative assessment of significance levels, and thus a comparison of data obtained in different experimental paradigms. In particular it is possible to compare stimulus-locked, and therefore time dependent correlations for different stimuli and also for different times relative to stimulus onset. This allows to separate purely stimulus-induced correlation from intrinsic interneuronal correlation. It further allows investigation of the dynamic characteristics of the interneuronal correlation. For the display of significance levels or the corresponding probabilities we propose a logarithmic measure, called “surprise”.