Contextual Modulation in Mammalian Neocortex is Asymmetric



Kay JW & Phillips WA (2020) Contextual Modulation in Mammalian Neocortex is Asymmetric. Symmetry, 12 (5), Art. No.: 815.

Neural systems are composed of many local processors that generate an output given their many inputs as specified by a transfer function. This paper studies a transfer function that is fundamentally asymmetric and builds on multi-site intracellular recordings indicating that some neocortical pyramidal cells can function as context-sensitive two-point processors in which some inputs modulate the strength with which they transmit information about other inputs. Learning and processing at the level of the local processor can then be guided by the context of activity in the system as a whole without corrupting the message that the local processor transmits. We use a recent advance in the foundations of information theory to compare the properties of this modulatory transfer function with that of the simple arithmetic operators. This advance enables the information transmitted by processors with two distinct inputs to be decomposed into those components unique to each input, that shared between the two inputs, and that which depends on both though it is in neither, i.e., synergy. We show that contextual modulation is fundamentally asymmetric, contrasts with all four simple arithmetic operators, can take various forms, and can occur together with the anatomical asymmetry that defines pyramidal neurons in mammalian neocortex.

asymmetry; multivariate mutual information; information decomposition; contextual modulation; synergy; neural systems

Symmetry: Volume 12, Issue 5

Publication date31/05/2020
Publication date online14/05/2020
Date accepted by journal12/05/2020
PublisherMDPI AG

People (1)


Professor Bill Phillips

Professor Bill Phillips

Emeritus Professor, Psychology