Fractal analysis reveals subclasses of neurons and suggests an explanation of their spontaneous activity

Luis H. Favela*, Charles A. Coey, Edwin R. Griff, Michael J. Richardson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The present work used fractal time series analysis (detrended fluctuation analysis; DFA) to examine the spontaneous activity of single neurons in an anesthetized animal model, specifically, the mitral cells in the rat main olfactory bulb. DFA bolstered previous research in suggesting two subclasses of mitral cells. Although there was no difference in the fractal scaling of the interspike interval series at the shorter timescales, there was a significant difference at longer timescales. Neurons in Group B exhibited fractal, power-law scaled interspike intervals, whereas neurons in Group A exhibited random variation. These results raise questions about the role of these different cells within the olfactory bulb and potential explanations of their dynamics. Specifically, self-organized criticality has been proposed as an explanation of fractal scaling in many natural systems, including neural systems. However, this theory is based on certain assumptions that do not clearly hold in the case of spontaneous neural activity, which likely reflects intrinsic cell dynamics rather than activity driven by external stimulation. Moreover, it is unclear how self-organized criticality might account for the random dynamics observed in Group A, and how these random dynamics might serve some functional role when embedded in the typical activity of the olfactory bulb. These theoretical considerations provide direction for additional experimental work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-58
Number of pages5
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • detrended fluctuation analysis
  • fractal scaling
  • mitral cells
  • olfactory bulb
  • self-organized criticality
  • spontaneous activity


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