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Functional connectivity in a rhythmic inhibitory circuit using Granger causality

Tilman Kispersky*, Gabrielle J Gutierrez and Eve Marder

Author Affiliations

415 South Street, Biology Department and Volen Center, MS 013, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454-9110, USA

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Neural Systems & Circuits 2011, 1:9  doi:10.1186/2042-1001-1-9

Published: 25 May 2011



Understanding circuit function would be greatly facilitated by methods that allow the simultaneous estimation of the functional strengths of all of the synapses in the network during ongoing network activity. Towards that end, we used Granger causality analysis on electrical recordings from the pyloric network of the crab Cancer borealis, a small rhythmic circuit with known connectivity, and known neuronal intrinsic properties.


Granger causality analysis reported a causal relationship where there is no anatomical correlate because of the strong oscillatory behavior of the pyloric circuit. Additionally, we failed to find a direct relationship between synaptic strength and Granger causality in a set of pyloric circuit models.


We conclude that the lack of a relationship between synaptic strength and functional connectivity occurs because Granger causality essentially collapses the direct contribution of the synapse with the intrinsic properties of the postsynaptic neuron. We suggest that the richness of the dynamical properties of most biological neurons complicates the simple interpretation of the results of functional connectivity analyses using Granger causality.