In complex natural environments, sensory systems are constantly exposed to a large stream of inputs. Novel or rare stimuli, which are often associated with behaviorally important events, are typically processed differently than the steady sensory background, which has less relevance. Neural signatures of such differential processing, commonly referred to as novelty detection, have been identified on the level of EEG recordings as mismatch negativity (MMN) and on the level of single neurons as stimulus-specific adaptation (SSA). Here, we propose a multi-scale recurrent network with synaptic depression to explain how novelty detection can arise in the whisker-related part of the somatosensory thalamocortical loop. The "minimalistic" architecture and dynamics of the model presume that neurons in cortical layer 6 adapt, via synaptic depression, specifically to a frequently presented stimulus, resulting in reduced population activity in the corresponding cortical column when compared with the population activity evoked by a rare stimulus. This difference in population activity is then projected from the cortex to the thalamus and amplified through the interaction between neurons of the primary and reticular nuclei of the thalamus, resulting in rhythmic oscillations. These differentially activated thalamic oscillations are forwarded to cortical layer 4 as a late secondary response that is specific to rare stimuli that violate a particular stimulus pattern. Model results show a strong analogy between this late single neuron activity and EEG-based mismatch negativity in terms of their common sensitivity to presentation context and timescales of response latency, as observed experimentally. Our results indicate that adaptation in L6 can establish the thalamocortical dynamics that produce signatures of SSA and MMN and suggest a mechanistic model of novelty detection that could generalize to other sensory modalities.
PLoS Computational Biology

Han, C., English, G., Saal, H., Indiveri, G., Gilra, A., von der Behrens, W., & Vasilaki, E. (2023). Modelling novelty detection in the thalamocortical loop. PLoS Computational Biology, 19(5), e1009616:1–e1009616:35. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009616