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Low-Dimensional Spatio-Temporal Dynamics Underlie Cortex-Wide Neural Activity

MacDowell CJ and Buschman TJ

Current Biology. May 28, 2020. 30 (14): 2665-2680.

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Cognition arises from the dynamic flow of neural activity through the brain. To capture these dynamics, we
used mesoscale calcium imaging to record neural activity across the dorsal cortex of awake mice. We found
that the large majority of variance in cortex-wide activity (75%) could be explained by a limited set of 14
‘‘motifs’’ of neural activity. Each motif captured a unique spatiotemporal pattern of neural activity across the
cortex. These motifs generalized across animals and were seen in multiple behavioral environments. Motif
expression differed across behavioral states, and specific motifs were engaged by sensory processing, suggesting
the motifs reflect core cortical computations. Together, our results show that cortex-wide neural activity
is highly dynamic but that these dynamics are restricted to a low-dimensional set of motifs, potentially
allowing for efficient control of behavior.

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