Towards a theory of cortical columns: From spiking neurons to interacting neural populations of finite size.

T. Schwalger, M. Deger, and W. Gerstner. PLoS Comput. Biol., 13(4):e1005507, 2017. [ DOI | pdf | Code ]

Understanding the brain requires mathematical models on different spatial scales. On the “microscopic” level of nerve cells, neural spike trains can be well predicted by phenomenological spiking neuron models. On a coarse scale, neural activity can be modeled by phenomenological equations that summarize the total activity of many thousands of neurons. Such population models are widely used to model neuroimaging data such as EEG, MEG or fMRI data. However, it is largely unknown how large-scale models are connected to an underlying microscale model. Linking the scales is vital for a correct description of rapid changes and fluctuations of the population activity, and is crucial for multiscale brain models. The challenge is to treat realistic spiking dynamics as well as fluctuations arising from the finite number of neurons. We obtained such a link by deriving stochastic population equations on the mesoscopic scale of 100 – 1000 neurons from an underlying microscopic model. These equations can be efficiently integrated and reproduce results of a microscopic simulation while achieving a high speed-up factor. We expect that our novel population theory on the mesoscopic scale will be instrumental for understanding experimental data on information processing in the brain, and ultimately link microscopic and macroscopic activity patterns.