Estimating network parameters from combined dynamics of firing rate and irregularity of single neurons.

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High firing irregularity is a hallmark of cortical neurons in vivo, and modeling studies suggest a balance of excitation and inhibition is necessary to explain this high irregularity. Such a balance must be generated, at least partly, from local interconnected networks of excitatory and inhibitory neurons, but the details of the local network structure are largely unknown. The dynamics of the neural activity depends on the local network structure; this in turn suggests the possibility of estimating network structure from the dynamics of the firing statistics. Here we report a new method to estimate properties of the local cortical network from the instantaneous firing rate and irregularity (CV(2)) under the assumption that recorded neurons are a part of a randomly connected sparse network. The firing irregularity, measured in monkey motor cortex, exhibits two features; many neurons show relatively stable firing irregularity in time and across different task conditions; the time-averaged CV(2) is widely distributed from quasi-regular to irregular (CV(2) = 0.3-1.0). For each recorded neuron, we estimate the three parameters of a local network [balance of local excitation-inhibition, number of recurrent connections per neuron, and excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) size] that best describe the dynamics of the measured firing rates and irregularities. Our analysis shows that optimal parameter sets form a two-dimensional manifold in the three-dimensional parameter space that is confined for most of the neurons to the inhibition-dominated region. High irregularity neurons tend to be more strongly connected to the local network, either in terms of larger EPSP and inhibitory PSP size or larger number of recurrent connections, compared with the low irregularity neurons, for a given excitatory/inhibitory balance. Incorporating either synaptic short-term depression or conductance-based synapses leads many low CV(2) neurons to move to the excitation-dominated region as well as to an increase of EPSP size.





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Hamaguchi, Kosuke, Alexa Riehle and Nicolas Brunel (2011). Estimating network parameters from combined dynamics of firing rate and irregularity of single neurons. Journal of neurophysiology, 105(1). pp. 487–500. 10.1152/jn.00858.2009 Retrieved from

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Nicolas Brunel

Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience

We use theoretical models of brain systems to investigate how they process and learn information from their inputs. Our current work focuses on the mechanisms of learning and memory, from the synapse to the network level, in collaboration with various experimental groups. Using methods from
statistical physics, we have shown recently that the synaptic
connectivity of a network that maximizes storage capacity reproduces
two key experimentally observed features: low connection probability
and strong overrepresentation of bidirectionnally connected pairs of
neurons. We have also inferred `synaptic plasticity rules' (a
mathematical description of how synaptic strength depends on the
activity of pre and post-synaptic neurons) from data, and shown that
networks endowed with a plasticity rule inferred from data have a
storage capacity that is close to the optimal bound.

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