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  1. Cortical computations emerge from the dynamics of neurons embedded in complex cortical circuits. Within these circuits, neuronal ensembles, which represent subnetworks with shared functional connectivity, emerge in an experience-dependent manner. Here we induced ensembles inex vivocortical circuits from mice of either sex by differentially activating subpopulations through chronic optogenetic stimulation. We observed a decrease in voltage correlation, and importantly a synaptic decoupling between the stimulated and nonstimulated populations. We also observed a decrease in firing rate during Up-states in the stimulated population. These ensemble-specific changes were accompanied by decreases in intrinsic excitability in the stimulated population, and a decrease in connectivity between stimulated and nonstimulated pyramidal neurons. By incorporating the empirically observed changes in intrinsic excitability and connectivity into a spiking neural network model, we were able to demonstrate that changes in both intrinsic excitability and connectivity accounted for the decreased firing rate, but only changes in connectivity accounted for the observed decorrelation. Our findings help ascertain the mechanisms underlying the ability of chronic patterned stimulation to create ensembles within cortical circuits and, importantly, show that while Up-states are a global network-wide phenomenon, functionally distinct ensembles can preserve their identity during Up-states through differential firing rates and correlations.

    SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTThe connectivity and activity patterns of local cortical circuits are shaped by experience. This experience-dependent reorganization of cortical circuits is driven by complex interactions between different local learning rules, external input, and reciprocal feedback between many distinct brain areas. Here we used anex vivoapproach to demonstrate how simple forms of chronic external stimulation can shape local cortical circuits in terms of their correlated activity and functional connectivity. The absence of feedback between different brain areas and full control of external input allowed for a tractable system to study the underlying mechanisms and development of a computational model. Results show that differential stimulation of subpopulations of neurons significantly reshapes cortical circuits and forms subnetworks referred to as neuronal ensembles.

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