Neuronal firing correlations are studied using simulations of a simple network model for a cortical column in a high-conductance state with dynamically balanced excitation and inhibition. Although correlations between individual pairs of neurons exhibit considerable heterogeneity, population averages show systematic behavior. When the network is in a stationary state, the average correlations are generically small: correlation coefficients are of order 1/N, where N is the number of neurons in the network. However, when the input to the network varies strongly in time, much larger values are found. In this situation, the network is out of balance, and the synaptic conductance is low, at times when the strongest firing occurs. However, examination of the correlation functions of synaptic currents reveals that after these bursts, balance is restored within a few milliseconds by a rapid increase in inhibitory synaptic conductance. These findings suggest an extension of the notion of the balanced state to include balanced fluctuations of synaptic currents, with a characteristic timescale of a few milliseconds.

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