Periodic variations in correlated cellular activity have been observed in many regions of the cerebral cortex. The recent discovery of stimulus-dependent, spatially-coherent oscillations in primary visual cortex of the cat has led to suggestions of neural information encoding schemes based on phase and/or frequency variation. To explore the mechanisms underlying this behavior and their possible functional consequences, we have developed a realistic neural model, based on structural features of visual cortex, which replicates observed oscillatory phenomena. In the model, this oscillatory behavior emerges directly from the structure of the cortical network and the properties of its intrinsic neurons; however, phase coherence is shown to be an average phenomenon seen only when measurements are made over multiple trials. Because average coherence does not ensure synchrony of firing over the course of single stimuli, oscillatory phase may not be a robust strategy for directly encoding stimulus-specific information. Instead, the phase and frequency of cortical oscillations may reflect the coordination of general computational processes within and between cortical areas. Under this interpretation, coherence emerges as a result of horizontal interactions that could be involved in the formation of receptive field properties.

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