Theta-gamma coupling emerges from spatially heterogeneous cholinergic neuromodulation

Yihao Yang, Howard Gritton, Martin Sarter, Sara J. Aton, Victoria Booth, Michal Zochowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theta and gamma rhythms and their cross-frequency coupling play critical roles in perception, attention, learning, and memory. Available data suggest that forebrain acetylcholine (ACh) signaling promotes theta-gamma coupling, although the mechanism has not been identified. Recent evidence suggests that cholinergic signaling is both temporally and spatially constrained, in contrast to the traditional notion of slow, spatially homogeneous, and diffuse neuromodulation. Here, we find that spatially constrained cholinergic stimulation can generate theta-modulated gamma rhythms. Using biophysically-based excitatory-inhibitory (E-I) neural network models, we simulate the effects of ACh on neural excitability by varying the conductance of a muscarinic receptor-regulated K+ current. In E-I networks with local excitatory connectivity and global inhibitory connectivity, we demonstrate that thetagamma- coupled firing patterns emerge in ACh modulated network regions. Stable gammamodulated firing arises within regions with high ACh signaling, while theta or mixed thetagamma activity occurs at the peripheries of these regions. High gamma activity also alternates between different high-ACh regions, at theta frequency. Our results are the first to indicate a causal role for spatially heterogenous ACh signaling in the emergence of localized theta-gamma rhythmicity. Our findings also provide novel insights into mechanisms by which ACh signaling supports the brain region-specific attentional processing of sensory information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1009235
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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