• brain theory;
  • multi-unit activity;
  • neural synchrony;
  • sensory coding


The functional role of correlated neural activity in auditory cortex for the processing of sounds was explored by investigating whether and how cross-correlation parameters are related to receptive field similarities of neurons. Multi-unit activity was recorded simultaneously from several sites of isofrequency domains in primary auditory cortex. At each site various receptive field properties were determined. From the discharges of pairs of clusters, normalized cross-correlation histograms (CCH) were calculated for extended periods of spontaneous activity and for periods with noise-burst stimulation. In both conditions, most CCHs exhibited a symmetrical positivity near the origin of the CCH, a few to several tens of milliseconds wide. Cross-correlation histograms were characterized with two parameters: the correlation strength, which was estimated from the peak correlation, and the correlation width, i.e. the time period of correlated firing, which was measured as the width of the positivity at half height. It was found that correlation strength increased and correlation width narrowed with increasing similarity of the receptive fields of two clusters. These relationships were observed both in the acoustically-driven and spontaneous conditions. Specifically, correlation strength was most strongly associated with similarity in binaural interaction and in temporal response properties such as response onset, response offset and the temporal pattern of the response. Correlation width was predominantly associated with similarity in characteristic frequency, bandwidth and intensity threshold. Results suggest that correlated activity, reflecting potential mechanisms involved in the neural computation in auditory cortex, provides a means to evaluate the properties of the functional organization of auditory cortex. Systematic relationships were found between correlation properties and the receptive field-based organization of cortical processing, suggesting that similar general mechanisms are utilized in many parts of the sensory cortex. In particular, the magnitude and/or the time period of synchronized firing of neurons is increased if the receptive field properties of the involved neurons are similar.