Journal of Computational Neuroscience

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 97–118 | Cite as

A single functional model of drivers and modulators in cortex

  • M. W. SpratlingEmail author


A distinction is commonly made between synaptic connections capable of evoking a response (“drivers”) and those that can alter ongoing activity but not initiate it (“modulators”). Here it is proposed that, in cortex, both drivers and modulators are an emergent property of the perceptual inference performed by cortical circuits. Hence, it is proposed that there is a single underlying computational explanation for both forms of synaptic connection. This idea is illustrated using a predictive coding model of cortical perceptual inference. In this model all synaptic inputs are treated identically. However, functionally, certain synaptic inputs drive neural responses while others have a modulatory influence. This model is shown to account for driving and modulatory influences in bottom-up, lateral, and top-down pathways, and is used to simulate a wide range of neurophysiological phenomena including surround suppression, contour integration, gain modulation, spatio-temporal prediction, and attention. The proposed computational model thus provides a single functional explanation for drivers and modulators and a unified account of a diverse range of neurophysiological data.


Cerebral cortex Cortical feedback Lateral connections Gain modulation Surround suppression Attention 



I am grateful to Steven Dakin for kindly providing the code used for generating the contour integration stimuli used for the experiments reported in Fig. 8, and to Bill Phillips for helpful discussions on an earlier draft of this article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of InformaticsKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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