Neurons are sensitive to correlations among synaptic inputs. However, analytical models that explicitly include correlations are hard to solve analytically, so their influence on a neuron's response has been difficult to ascertain. To gain some intuition on this problem, we studied the firing times of two simple integrate-and-fire model neurons driven by a correlated binary variable that represents the total input current. Analytic expressions were obtained for the average firing rate and coefficient of variation (a measure of spike-train variability) as functions of the mean, variance, and correlation time of the stochastic input. The results of computer simulations were in excellent agreement with these expressions. In these models, an increase in correlation time in general produces an increase in both the average firing rate and the variability of the output spike trains. However, the magnitude of the changes depends differentially on the relative values of the input mean and variance: the increase in firing rate is higher when the variance is large relative to the mean, whereas the increase in variability is higher when the variance is relatively small. In addition, the firing rate always tends to a finite limit value as the correlation time increases toward infinity, whereas the coefficient of variation typically diverges. These results suggest that temporal correlations may play a major role in determining the variability as well as the intensity of neuronal spike trains.

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