Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Computational neuroscience

Computational neuroscience is an interdisciplinary science that links the diverse fields of neuroscience, cognitive science, electrical engineering, computer science, physics and mathematics. Historically, the term was introduced by Eric L. Schwartz, who organized a conference, held in 1985 in Carmel, California at the request of the Systems Development Foundation, to provide a summary of the current status of a field which until that point was referred to by a variety of names, such as neural modeling, brain theory and neural networks. The proceedings of this definitional meeting were later published as the book "Computational Neuroscience" (1990).[1] The early historical roots of the field can be traced to the work of people such as Hodgkin & Huxley, Hubel & Wiesel, and David Marr, to name but a few. Hodgkin & Huxley developed the voltage clamp and created the first mathematical model of the action potential. Hubel & Wiesel discovered that neurons inprimary visual cortex, the first cortical area to process information coming from the retina, have oriented receptive fields and are organized in columns.[2] David Marr's work focused on the interactions between neurons, suggesting computational approaches to the study of how functional groups of neurons within the hippocampus and neocortex interact, store, process, and transmit information. Computational modeling of biophysically realistic neurons and dendrites began with the work of Wilfrid Rall, with the first multicompartmental model using cable theory.

Computational neuroscience is distinct from psychological connectionism and theories of learning from disciplines such as machine learning,neural networks and statistical learning theory in that it emphasizes descriptions of functional and biologically realistic neurons (and neural systems) and their physiology and dynamics. These models capture the essential features of the biological system at multiple spatial-temporal scales, from membrane currents, protein and chemical coupling to network oscillations, columnar and topographic architecture and learning and memory. These computational models are used to test hypotheses that can be directly verified by current or future biological experiments.

Currently, the field is undergoing a rapid expansion. There are many software packages, such as GENESIS and NEURON, that allow rapid and systematic in silico modeling of realistic neurons. Blue Brain, a collaboration between IBM and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, aims to construct a biophysically detailed simulation of a cortical column on the Blue Gene supercomputer.



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