Neuronal avalanches and coherence potentials
Section on Critical Brain Dynamics, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, USA
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Revised: 9 March 2012
Published online: 1 May 2012
The mammalian cortex consists of a vast network of weakly interacting excitable cells called neurons. Neurons must synchronize their activities in order to trigger activity in neighboring neurons. Moreover, interactions must be carefully regulated to remain weak (but not too weak) such that cascades of active neuronal groups avoid explosive growth yet allow for activity propagation over long-distances. Such a balance is robustly realized for neuronal avalanches, which are defined as cortical activity cascades that follow precise power laws. In experiments, scale-invariant neuronal avalanche dynamics have been observed during spontaneous cortical activity in isolated preparations in vitro as well as in the ongoing cortical activity of awake animals and in humans. Theory, models, and experiments suggest that neuronal avalanches are the signature of brain function near criticality at which the cortex optimally responds to inputs and maximizes its information capacity. Importantly, avalanche dynamics allow for the emergence of a subset of avalanches, the coherence potentials. They emerge when the synchronization of a local neuronal group exceeds a local threshold, at which the system spawns replicas of the local group activity at distant network sites. The functional importance of coherence potentials will be discussed in the context of propagating structures, such as gliders in balanced cellular automata. Gliders constitute local population dynamics that replicate in space after a finite number of generations and are thought to provide cellular automata with universal computation. Avalanches and coherence potentials are proposed to constitute a modern framework of cortical synchronization dynamics that underlies brain function.
© EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag, 2012