Average firing rate rather than temporal pattern determines metabolic cost of activity in thalamocortical relay neurons.
Thalamocortical (TC) relay cells exhibit different temporal patterns of activity, including tonic mode and burst mode, to transmit sensory information to the cortex. Our aim was to quantify the metabolic cost of different temporal patterns of neural activity across a range of average firing rates. We used a biophysically-realistic model of a TC relay neuron to simulate tonic and burst patterns of firing. We calculated the metabolic cost by converting the calculated ion fluxes into the demand for ATP to maintain homeostasis of intracellular ion concentrations. Most energy was expended on reversing Na+ entry during action potentials and pumping Ca2+ out of the cell. Average firing rate determined the ATP cost across firing patterns by controlling the overall number of spikes. Varying intraburst frequency or spike number in each burst influenced the metabolic cost by altering the interactions of inward and outward currents on multiple timescales, but temporal pattern contributed substantially less to the metabolic demand of neural activity as compared to average firing rate. These predictions should be considered when interpreting findings of functional imaging studies that rely of estimates of neuronal metabolic demand, e.g., functional magnetic resonance imaging.
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