We present a dynamic causal model that can explain context-dependent changes in neural responses, in the rat barrel cortex, to an electrical whisker stimulation at different frequencies. Neural responses were measured in terms of local field potentials. These were converted into current source density (CSD) data, and the time series of the CSD sink was extracted to provide a time series response train. The model structure consists of three layers (approximating the responses from the brain stem to the thalamus and then the barrel cortex), and the latter two layers contain nonlinearly coupled modules of linear second-order dynamic systems. The interaction of these modules forms a nonlinear regulatory system that determines the temporal structure of the neural response amplitude for the thalamic and cortical layers.

The model is based on the measured population dynamics of neurons rather than the dynamics of a single neuron and was evaluated against CSD data from experiments with varying stimulation frequency (1–40 Hz), random pulse trains, and awake and anesthetized animals. The model parameters obtained by optimization for different physiological conditions (anesthetized or awake) were significantly different.

Following Friston, Mechelli, Turner, and Price (2000), this work is part of a formal mathematical system currently being developed (Zheng et al., 2005) that links stimulation to the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signal through neural activity and hemodynamic variables. The importance of the model described here is that it can be used to invert the hemodynamic measurements of changes in blood flow to estimate the underlying neural activity.

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