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Section: Research Program

Modeling neuronal excitability

Excitability refers to the all-or-none property of neurons  [58], [61]. That is, the ability to respond nonlinearly to an input with a dramatic change of response from “none” — no response except a small perturbation that returns to equilibrium — to “all” — large response with the generation of an action potential or spike before the neuron returns to equilibrium. The return to equilibrium may also be an oscillatory motion of small amplitude; in this case, one speaks of resonator neurons as opposed to integrator neurons. The combination of a spike followed by subthreshold oscillations is then often referred to as mixed-mode oscillations (MMOs) [52]. Slow-fast ODE models of dimension at least three are well capable of reproducing such complex neural oscillations. Part of our research expertise is to analyse the possible transitions between different complex oscillatory patterns of this sort upon input change and, in mathematical terms, this corresponds to understanding the bifurcation structure of the model. Furthermore, the shape of time series of this sort with a given oscillatory pattern can be analysed within the mathematical framework of dynamic bifurcations; see the section on slow-fast dynamics in Neuronal Models. The main example of abnormal neuronal excitability is hyperexcitability and it is important to understand the biological factors which lead to such excess of excitability and to identify (both in detailed biophysical models and reduced phenomenological ones) the mathematical structures leading to these anomalies. Hyperexcitability is one important trigger for pathological brain states related to various diseases such as chronic migraine  [65], epilepsy  [75] or even Alzheimer's Disease  [64]. A central central axis of research within our group is to revisit models of such pathological scenarios, in relation with a combination of advanced mathematical tools and in partnership with biological labs.