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Section: Scientific Foundations

Computational neuroscience at the microscopic level: spiking neurons and networks

Computational neuroscience is also interested in having more precise and realistic models of the neuron and especially of its dynamics. We consider that the latter aspect can not be treated at the single unit level only; it is also necessary to consider interactions between neurons at the microscopic scale.

On one hand, compartmental models describe the neuron at the inner scale, through various compartments (axon, synapse, cellular body) and coupled differential equations, allowing to numerically predict the neural activity at a high degree of accuracy. This, however, is intractable if analytic properties are to be derived, or if neural assemblies are considered. We thus focus on phenomenological punctual models of spiking neurons, in order to capture the dynamic behavior of the neuron isolated or inside a network. Generalized conductance based leaky integrate and fire neurons (emitting action potential, i.e. spike, from input integration) or simplified instantiations are considered in our group.

On the other hand, one central issue is to better understand the precise nature of the neural code. From rate coding (the classical assumption that information is mainly conveyed by the firing frequency of neurons) to less explored assumptions such as high-order statistics, time coding (the idea that information is encoded in the firing time of neurons) or synchronization aspects. At the biological level, a fundamental example is the synchronization of neural activities, which seems to play a role in olfactory perception: it has been observed that abolishing synchronization suppresses the odor discrimination capability. At the computational level, recent theoretical results show that the neural code is embedded in periodic firing patterns, while, more generally, we focus on tractable mathematical analysis methods coming from the theory of nonlinear dynamical systems.

For both biological simulations and computer science emerging paradigms, the rigorous simulation of large neural assemblies is a central issue. Our group is at the origin, up to our best knowledge, of the most efficient event-based neural network simulator, based on well-founded discrete event dynamic systems theory, and now extended to other simulation paradigms, thus offering the capability to push the state of the art on this topic.


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