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2.  The Correlation Structure of Local Neuronal Networks Intrinsically Results from Recurrent Dynamics 
PLoS Computational Biology  2014;10(1):e1003428.
Correlated neuronal activity is a natural consequence of network connectivity and shared inputs to pairs of neurons, but the task-dependent modulation of correlations in relation to behavior also hints at a functional role. Correlations influence the gain of postsynaptic neurons, the amount of information encoded in the population activity and decoded by readout neurons, and synaptic plasticity. Further, it affects the power and spatial reach of extracellular signals like the local-field potential. A theory of correlated neuronal activity accounting for recurrent connectivity as well as fluctuating external sources is currently lacking. In particular, it is unclear how the recently found mechanism of active decorrelation by negative feedback on the population level affects the network response to externally applied correlated stimuli. Here, we present such an extension of the theory of correlations in stochastic binary networks. We show that (1) for homogeneous external input, the structure of correlations is mainly determined by the local recurrent connectivity, (2) homogeneous external inputs provide an additive, unspecific contribution to the correlations, (3) inhibitory feedback effectively decorrelates neuronal activity, even if neurons receive identical external inputs, and (4) identical synaptic input statistics to excitatory and to inhibitory cells increases intrinsically generated fluctuations and pairwise correlations. We further demonstrate how the accuracy of mean-field predictions can be improved by self-consistently including correlations. As a byproduct, we show that the cancellation of correlations between the summed inputs to pairs of neurons does not originate from the fast tracking of external input, but from the suppression of fluctuations on the population level by the local network. This suppression is a necessary constraint, but not sufficient to determine the structure of correlations; specifically, the structure observed at finite network size differs from the prediction based on perfect tracking, even though perfect tracking implies suppression of population fluctuations.
Author Summary
The co-occurrence of action potentials of pairs of neurons within short time intervals has been known for a long time. Such synchronous events can appear time-locked to the behavior of an animal, and also theoretical considerations argue for a functional role of synchrony. Early theoretical work tried to explain correlated activity by neurons transmitting common fluctuations due to shared inputs. This, however, overestimates correlations. Recently, the recurrent connectivity of cortical networks was shown responsible for the observed low baseline correlations. Two different explanations were given: One argues that excitatory and inhibitory population activities closely follow the external inputs to the network, so that their effects on a pair of cells mutually cancel. Another explanation relies on negative recurrent feedback to suppress fluctuations in the population activity, equivalent to small correlations. In a biological neuronal network one expects both, external inputs and recurrence, to affect correlated activity. The present work extends the theoretical framework of correlations to include both contributions and explains their qualitative differences. Moreover, the study shows that the arguments of fast tracking and recurrent feedback are not equivalent, only the latter correctly predicts the cell-type specific correlations.
PMCID: PMC3894226  PMID: 24453955
3.  Spiking network simulation code for petascale computers 
Brain-scale networks exhibit a breathtaking heterogeneity in the dynamical properties and parameters of their constituents. At cellular resolution, the entities of theory are neurons and synapses and over the past decade researchers have learned to manage the heterogeneity of neurons and synapses with efficient data structures. Already early parallel simulation codes stored synapses in a distributed fashion such that a synapse solely consumes memory on the compute node harboring the target neuron. As petaflop computers with some 100,000 nodes become increasingly available for neuroscience, new challenges arise for neuronal network simulation software: Each neuron contacts on the order of 10,000 other neurons and thus has targets only on a fraction of all compute nodes; furthermore, for any given source neuron, at most a single synapse is typically created on any compute node. From the viewpoint of an individual compute node, the heterogeneity in the synaptic target lists thus collapses along two dimensions: the dimension of the types of synapses and the dimension of the number of synapses of a given type. Here we present a data structure taking advantage of this double collapse using metaprogramming techniques. After introducing the relevant scaling scenario for brain-scale simulations, we quantitatively discuss the performance on two supercomputers. We show that the novel architecture scales to the largest petascale supercomputers available today.
PMCID: PMC4193238  PMID: 25346682
supercomputer; large-scale simulation; parallel computing; computational neuroscience; memory footprint; memory management; metaprogramming
4.  Spatial and Feature-Based Attention in a Layered Cortical Microcircuit Model 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e80788.
Directing attention to the spatial location or the distinguishing feature of a visual object modulates neuronal responses in the visual cortex and the stimulus discriminability of subjects. However, the spatial and feature-based modes of attention differently influence visual processing by changing the tuning properties of neurons. Intriguingly, neurons' tuning curves are modulated similarly across different visual areas under both these modes of attention. Here, we explored the mechanism underlying the effects of these two modes of visual attention on the orientation selectivity of visual cortical neurons. To do this, we developed a layered microcircuit model. This model describes multiple orientation-specific microcircuits sharing their receptive fields and consisting of layers 2/3, 4, 5, and 6. These microcircuits represent a functional grouping of cortical neurons and mutually interact via lateral inhibition and excitatory connections between groups with similar selectivity. The individual microcircuits receive bottom-up visual stimuli and top-down attention in different layers. A crucial assumption of the model is that feature-based attention activates orientation-specific microcircuits for the relevant feature selectively, whereas spatial attention activates all microcircuits homogeneously, irrespective of their orientation selectivity. Consequently, our model simultaneously accounts for the multiplicative scaling of neuronal responses in spatial attention and the additive modulations of orientation tuning curves in feature-based attention, which have been observed widely in various visual cortical areas. Simulations of the model predict contrasting differences between excitatory and inhibitory neurons in the two modes of attentional modulations. Furthermore, the model replicates the modulation of the psychophysical discriminability of visual stimuli in the presence of external noise. Our layered model with a biologically suggested laminar structure describes the basic circuit mechanism underlying the attention-mode specific modulations of neuronal responses and visual perception.
PMCID: PMC3855641  PMID: 24324628
11.  Recurrence and external sources differentially shape network correlations 
BMC Neuroscience  2013;14(Suppl 1):P113.
PMCID: PMC3704526
13.  Noise Suppression and Surplus Synchrony by Coincidence Detection 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(4):e1002904.
The functional significance of correlations between action potentials of neurons is still a matter of vivid debate. In particular, it is presently unclear how much synchrony is caused by afferent synchronized events and how much is intrinsic due to the connectivity structure of cortex. The available analytical approaches based on the diffusion approximation do not allow to model spike synchrony, preventing a thorough analysis. Here we theoretically investigate to what extent common synaptic afferents and synchronized inputs each contribute to correlated spiking on a fine temporal scale between pairs of neurons. We employ direct simulation and extend earlier analytical methods based on the diffusion approximation to pulse-coupling, allowing us to introduce precisely timed correlations in the spiking activity of the synaptic afferents. We investigate the transmission of correlated synaptic input currents by pairs of integrate-and-fire model neurons, so that the same input covariance can be realized by common inputs or by spiking synchrony. We identify two distinct regimes: In the limit of low correlation linear perturbation theory accurately determines the correlation transmission coefficient, which is typically smaller than unity, but increases sensitively even for weakly synchronous inputs. In the limit of high input correlation, in the presence of synchrony, a qualitatively new picture arises. As the non-linear neuronal response becomes dominant, the output correlation becomes higher than the total correlation in the input. This transmission coefficient larger unity is a direct consequence of non-linear neural processing in the presence of noise, elucidating how synchrony-coded signals benefit from these generic properties present in cortical networks.
Author Summary
Whether spike timing conveys information in cortical networks or whether the firing rate alone is sufficient is a matter of controversial debate, touching the fundamental question of how the brain processes, stores, and conveys information. If the firing rate alone is the decisive signal used in the brain, correlations between action potentials are just an epiphenomenon of cortical connectivity, where pairs of neurons share a considerable fraction of common afferents. Due to membrane leakage, small synaptic amplitudes and the non-linear threshold, nerve cells exhibit lossy transmission of correlation originating from shared synaptic inputs. However, the membrane potential of cortical neurons often displays non-Gaussian fluctuations, caused by synchronized synaptic inputs. Moreover, synchronously active neurons have been found to reflect behavior in primates. In this work we therefore contrast the transmission of correlation due to shared afferents and due to synchronously arriving synaptic impulses for leaky neuron models. We not only find that neurons are highly sensitive to synchronous afferents, but that they can suppress noise on signals transmitted by synchrony, a computational advantage over rate signals.
PMCID: PMC3617020  PMID: 23592953
14.  A unified view on weakly correlated recurrent networks 
The diversity of neuron models used in contemporary theoretical neuroscience to investigate specific properties of covariances in the spiking activity raises the question how these models relate to each other. In particular it is hard to distinguish between generic properties of covariances and peculiarities due to the abstracted model. Here we present a unified view on pairwise covariances in recurrent networks in the irregular regime. We consider the binary neuron model, the leaky integrate-and-fire (LIF) model, and the Hawkes process. We show that linear approximation maps each of these models to either of two classes of linear rate models (LRM), including the Ornstein–Uhlenbeck process (OUP) as a special case. The distinction between both classes is the location of additive noise in the rate dynamics, which is located on the output side for spiking models and on the input side for the binary model. Both classes allow closed form solutions for the covariance. For output noise it separates into an echo term and a term due to correlated input. The unified framework enables us to transfer results between models. For example, we generalize the binary model and the Hawkes process to the situation with synaptic conduction delays and simplify derivations for established results. Our approach is applicable to general network structures and suitable for the calculation of population averages. The derived averages are exact for fixed out-degree network architectures and approximate for fixed in-degree. We demonstrate how taking into account fluctuations in the linearization procedure increases the accuracy of the effective theory and we explain the class dependent differences between covariances in the time and the frequency domain. Finally we show that the oscillatory instability emerging in networks of LIF models with delayed inhibitory feedback is a model-invariant feature: the same structure of poles in the complex frequency plane determines the population power spectra.
PMCID: PMC3799216  PMID: 24151463
correlations; linear response; Hawkes process; leaky integrate-and-fire model; binary neuron; linear rate model; Ornstein–Uhlenbeck process
15.  How pattern formation in ring networks of excitatory and inhibitory spiking neurons depends on the input current regime 
Pattern formation, i.e., the generation of an inhomogeneous spatial activity distribution in a dynamical system with translation invariant structure, is a well-studied phenomenon in neuronal network dynamics, specifically in neural field models. These are population models to describe the spatio-temporal dynamics of large groups of neurons in terms of macroscopic variables such as population firing rates. Though neural field models are often deduced from and equipped with biophysically meaningful properties, a direct mapping to simulations of individual spiking neuron populations is rarely considered. Neurons have a distinct identity defined by their action on their postsynaptic targets. In its simplest form they act either excitatorily or inhibitorily. When the distribution of neuron identities is assumed to be periodic, pattern formation can be observed, given the coupling strength is supracritical, i.e., larger than a critical weight. We find that this critical weight is strongly dependent on the characteristics of the neuronal input, i.e., depends on whether neurons are mean- or fluctuation driven, and different limits in linearizing the full non-linear system apply in order to assess stability. In particular, if neurons are mean-driven, the linearization has a very simple form and becomes independent of both the fixed point firing rate and the variance of the input current, while in the very strongly fluctuation-driven regime the fixed point rate, as well as the input mean and variance are important parameters in the determination of the critical weight. We demonstrate that interestingly even in “intermediate” regimes, when the system is technically fluctuation-driven, the simple linearization neglecting the variance of the input can yield the better prediction of the critical coupling strength. We moreover analyze the effects of structural randomness by rewiring individual synapses or redistributing weights, as well as coarse-graining on the formation of inhomogeneous activity patterns.
PMCID: PMC3882721  PMID: 24501591
pattern formation; spiking neurons; linear model; mean-driven; fluctuation driven; ring networks; small-world networks
16.  Compositionality in neural control: an interdisciplinary study of scribbling movements in primates 
This article discusses the compositional structure of hand movements by analyzing and modeling neural and behavioral data obtained from experiments where a monkey (Macaca fascicularis) performed scribbling movements induced by a search task. Using geometrically based approaches to movement segmentation, it is shown that the hand trajectories are composed of elementary segments that are primarily parabolic in shape. The segments could be categorized into a small number of classes on the basis of decreasing intra-class variance over the course of training. A separate classification of the neural data employing a hidden Markov model showed a coincidence of the neural states with the behavioral categories. An additional analysis of both types of data by a data mining method provided evidence that the neural activity patterns underlying the behavioral primitives were formed by sets of specific and precise spike patterns. A geometric description of the movement trajectories, together with precise neural timing data indicates a compositional variant of a realistic synfire chain model. This model reproduces the typical shapes and temporal properties of the trajectories; hence the structure and composition of the primitives may reflect meaningful behavior.
PMCID: PMC3771313  PMID: 24062679
voluntary-movements; scribbling; compositionality; hand-motion-model; synfire chains; motion-primitives
17.  The Cell-Type Specific Cortical Microcircuit: Relating Structure and Activity in a Full-Scale Spiking Network Model 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2012;24(3):785-806.
In the past decade, the cell-type specific connectivity and activity of local cortical networks have been characterized experimentally to some detail. In parallel, modeling has been established as a tool to relate network structure to activity dynamics. While available comprehensive connectivity maps ( Thomson, West, et al. 2002; Binzegger et al. 2004) have been used in various computational studies, prominent features of the simulated activity such as the spontaneous firing rates do not match the experimental findings. Here, we analyze the properties of these maps to compile an integrated connectivity map, which additionally incorporates insights on the specific selection of target types. Based on this integrated map, we build a full-scale spiking network model of the local cortical microcircuit. The simulated spontaneous activity is asynchronous irregular and cell-type specific firing rates are in agreement with in vivo recordings in awake animals, including the low rate of layer 2/3 excitatory cells. The interplay of excitation and inhibition captures the flow of activity through cortical layers after transient thalamic stimulation. In conclusion, the integration of a large body of the available connectivity data enables us to expose the dynamical consequences of the cortical microcircuitry.
PMCID: PMC3920768  PMID: 23203991
connectivity maps; cortical microcircuit; large-scale models; layered network; specificity of connections
18.  Spike-Timing Dependence of Structural Plasticity Explains Cooperative Synapse Formation in the Neocortex 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(9):e1002689.
Structural plasticity governs the long-term development of synaptic connections in the neocortex. While the underlying processes at the synapses are not fully understood, there is strong evidence that a process of random, independent formation and pruning of excitatory synapses can be ruled out. Instead, there must be some cooperation between the synaptic contacts connecting a single pre- and postsynaptic neuron pair. So far, the mechanism of cooperation is not known. Here we demonstrate that local correlation detection at the postsynaptic dendritic spine suffices to explain the synaptic cooperation effect, without assuming any hypothetical direct interaction pathway between the synaptic contacts. Candidate biomolecular mechanisms for dendritic correlation detection have been identified previously, as well as for structural plasticity based thereon. By analyzing and fitting of a simple model, we show that spike-timing correlation dependent structural plasticity, without additional mechanisms of cross-synapse interaction, can reproduce the experimentally observed distributions of numbers of synaptic contacts between pairs of neurons in the neocortex. Furthermore, the model yields a first explanation for the existence of both transient and persistent dendritic spines and allows to make predictions for future experiments.
Author Summary
Structural plasticity has been observed even in the adult mammalian neocortex – in seemingly static neuronal circuits structural remodeling is continuously at work. Still, it has been shown that the connection patterns between pairs of neurons are not random. In contrast, there is evidence that the synaptic contacts between a pair of neurons cooperate: several experimental studies report either zero or about 3–6 synapses between neuron pairs. The mechanism by which the synapses cooperate, however, has not yet been identified. Here we propose a model for structural plasticity that relies on local processes at the dendritic spine. We combine and extend the previous models and determine the equilibrium probability distribution of synaptic contact numbers of the model. By optimizing the parameters numerically for each of three reference datasets, we obtain equilibrium contact number distributions that fit the references very well. We conclude that the local dendritic mechanisms that we assume suffice to explain the cooperative synapse formation in the neocortex.
PMCID: PMC3447982  PMID: 23028287
19.  High-capacity embedding of synfire chains in a cortical network model 
Synfire chains, sequences of pools linked by feedforward connections, support the propagation of precisely timed spike sequences, or synfire waves. An important question remains, how synfire chains can efficiently be embedded in cortical architecture. We present a model of synfire chain embedding in a cortical scale recurrent network using conductance-based synapses, balanced chains, and variable transmission delays. The network attains substantially higher embedding capacities than previous spiking neuron models and allows all its connections to be used for embedding. The number of waves in the model is regulated by recurrent background noise. We computationally explore the embedding capacity limit, and use a mean field analysis to describe the equilibrium state. Simulations confirm the mean field analysis over broad ranges of pool sizes and connectivity levels; the number of pools embedded in the system trades off against the firing rate and the number of waves. An optimal inhibition level balances the conflicting requirements of stable synfire propagation and limited response to background noise. A simplified analysis shows that the present conductance-based synapses achieve higher contrast between the responses to synfire input and background noise compared to current-based synapses, while regulation of wave numbers is traced to the use of variable transmission delays.
PMCID: PMC3605496  PMID: 22878688
Recurrent network dynamics; Feedforward network; Synchrony; Synaptic conductance; Synfire chain; Storage capacity
20.  Decorrelation of Neural-Network Activity by Inhibitory Feedback 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(8):e1002596.
Correlations in spike-train ensembles can seriously impair the encoding of information by their spatio-temporal structure. An inevitable source of correlation in finite neural networks is common presynaptic input to pairs of neurons. Recent studies demonstrate that spike correlations in recurrent neural networks are considerably smaller than expected based on the amount of shared presynaptic input. Here, we explain this observation by means of a linear network model and simulations of networks of leaky integrate-and-fire neurons. We show that inhibitory feedback efficiently suppresses pairwise correlations and, hence, population-rate fluctuations, thereby assigning inhibitory neurons the new role of active decorrelation. We quantify this decorrelation by comparing the responses of the intact recurrent network (feedback system) and systems where the statistics of the feedback channel is perturbed (feedforward system). Manipulations of the feedback statistics can lead to a significant increase in the power and coherence of the population response. In particular, neglecting correlations within the ensemble of feedback channels or between the external stimulus and the feedback amplifies population-rate fluctuations by orders of magnitude. The fluctuation suppression in homogeneous inhibitory networks is explained by a negative feedback loop in the one-dimensional dynamics of the compound activity. Similarly, a change of coordinates exposes an effective negative feedback loop in the compound dynamics of stable excitatory-inhibitory networks. The suppression of input correlations in finite networks is explained by the population averaged correlations in the linear network model: In purely inhibitory networks, shared-input correlations are canceled by negative spike-train correlations. In excitatory-inhibitory networks, spike-train correlations are typically positive. Here, the suppression of input correlations is not a result of the mere existence of correlations between excitatory (E) and inhibitory (I) neurons, but a consequence of a particular structure of correlations among the three possible pairings (EE, EI, II).
Author Summary
The spatio-temporal activity pattern generated by a recurrent neuronal network can provide a rich dynamical basis which allows readout neurons to generate a variety of responses by tuning the synaptic weights of their inputs. The repertoire of possible responses and the response reliability become maximal if the spike trains of individual neurons are uncorrelated. Spike-train correlations in cortical networks can indeed be very small, even for neighboring neurons. This seems to be at odds with the finding that neighboring neurons receive a considerable fraction of inputs from identical presynaptic sources constituting an inevitable source of correlation. In this article, we show that inhibitory feedback, abundant in biological neuronal networks, actively suppresses correlations. The mechanism is generic: It does not depend on the details of the network nodes and decorrelates networks composed of excitatory and inhibitory neurons as well as purely inhibitory networks. For the case of the leaky integrate-and-fire model, we derive the correlation structure analytically. The new toolbox of formal linearization and a basis transformation exposing the feedback component is applicable to a range of biological systems. We confirm our analytical results by direct simulations.
PMCID: PMC3487539  PMID: 23133368
21.  Is a 4-Bit Synaptic Weight Resolution Enough? – Constraints on Enabling Spike-Timing Dependent Plasticity in Neuromorphic Hardware 
Large-scale neuromorphic hardware systems typically bear the trade-off between detail level and required chip resources. Especially when implementing spike-timing dependent plasticity, reduction in resources leads to limitations as compared to floating point precision. By design, a natural modification that saves resources would be reducing synaptic weight resolution. In this study, we give an estimate for the impact of synaptic weight discretization on different levels, ranging from random walks of individual weights to computer simulations of spiking neural networks. The FACETS wafer-scale hardware system offers a 4-bit resolution of synaptic weights, which is shown to be sufficient within the scope of our network benchmark. Our findings indicate that increasing the resolution may not even be useful in light of further restrictions of customized mixed-signal synapses. In addition, variations due to production imperfections are investigated and shown to be uncritical in the context of the presented study. Our results represent a general framework for setting up and configuring hardware-constrained synapses. We suggest how weight discretization could be considered for other backends dedicated to large-scale simulations. Thus, our proposition of a good hardware verification practice may rise synergy effects between hardware developers and neuroscientists.
PMCID: PMC3398398  PMID: 22822388
neuromorphic hardware; wafer-scale integration; large-scale spiking neural networks; spike-timing dependent plasticity; synaptic weight resolution; circuit variations; PyNN; NEST
22.  Supercomputers Ready for Use as Discovery Machines for Neuroscience 
NEST is a widely used tool to simulate biological spiking neural networks. Here we explain the improvements, guided by a mathematical model of memory consumption, that enable us to exploit for the first time the computational power of the K supercomputer for neuroscience. Multi-threaded components for wiring and simulation combine 8 cores per MPI process to achieve excellent scaling. K is capable of simulating networks corresponding to a brain area with 108 neurons and 1012 synapses in the worst case scenario of random connectivity; for larger networks of the brain its hierarchical organization can be exploited to constrain the number of communicating computer nodes. We discuss the limits of the software technology, comparing maximum filling scaling plots for K and the JUGENE BG/P system. The usability of these machines for network simulations has become comparable to running simulations on a single PC. Turn-around times in the range of minutes even for the largest systems enable a quasi interactive working style and render simulations on this scale a practical tool for computational neuroscience.
PMCID: PMC3486988  PMID: 23129998
supercomputer; large-scale simulation; spiking neural networks; parallel computing; computational neuroscience
23.  CoCoMac 2.0 and the future of tract-tracing databases 
The CoCoMac database contains the results of several hundred published axonal tract-tracing studies in the macaque monkey brain. The combined results are used for constructing the macaque macro-connectome. Here we discuss the redevelopment of CoCoMac and compare it to six connectome-related projects: two online resources that provide full access to raw tracing data in rodents, a connectome viewer for advanced 3D graphics, a partial but highly detailed rat connectome, a brain data management system that generates custom connectivity matrices, and a software package that covers the complete pipeline from connectivity data to large-scale brain simulations. The second edition of CoCoMac features many enhancements over the original. For example, a search wizard is provided for full access to all tables and their nested dependencies. Connectivity matrices can be computed on demand in a user-selected nomenclature. A new data entry system is available as a preview, and is to become a generic solution for community-driven data entry in manually collated databases. We conclude with the question whether neuronal tracing will remain the gold standard to uncover the wiring of brains, thereby highlighting developments in human connectome construction, tracer substances, polarized light imaging, and serial block-face scanning electron microscopy.
PMCID: PMC3530798  PMID: 23293600
CoCoMac; macaque; connectivity; database; axonal tracing

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