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Brain Circuit Insight: From brain circuit models to brain circuit insights

Abstract

Despite decades of intense research efforts investigating the brain at the molecular, cell, circuit and system  levels, the operating principles of the human brain, or any brain, remain largely unknown. In broad terms one  could argue that we now have a fairly good understanding of how individual neurons operate and process information, but that the behavior of networks of such neurons is poorly understood. Following the pioneering work of Hubel and Wiesel mapping out receptive fields in the early visual system, similar statistical  approaches have been used to explore how different types of sensory input and behaviour are represented in the brain. The qualitative insights gained by obtaining these descriptive receptive-field models should not  be underestimated, but these models offer little insight into how networks of neurons give rise to the observed neural representations. Such insight will require mechanistic modeling where neurons are explicitly modeled and connected in networks. A cubic millimeter of cortex contains several tens of thousands of  neurons, however, and until recently, limitations in computer technology have prohibited the mathematical  exploration of neural networks mimicking cortical areas even in the smallest mammals. With the advent of  modern supercomputers, simulations of networks comprising hundreds of thousands or millions of neurons are becoming feasible. Thus several large-scale brain projects, including the EU Human Brain Project and MindScope at the Allen Brain Institute, have endeavored to create large-scale network models for  mathematical exploration of network dynamics.

The goal of the workshop is to present various simulation tools for network simulations and exemplary state-of-the-art use cases from studies of large-scale networks mimicking particular parts of the brain. However, the simulation of such large networks is not a goal in itself. Rather, the goal is to use such  simulations to gain insight into how real brain circuits operate. A key goal of the workshop will thus also be to  discuss methods for how to compare and fit such highly complex models to experimental data and thereby  gain insights into the operation of real brain circuits.

 

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