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Neural Netw. 2011 Nov;24(9):998-1011. doi: 10.1016/j.neunet.2011.06.013. Epub 2011 Jun 25.

Simulation of signal flow in 3D reconstructions of an anatomically realistic neural network in rat vibrissal cortex.

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Digital Neuroanatomy, Max Planck Florida Institute, 5353 Parkside Drive, MC19-RE, Jupiter, FL 33458-2906, USA.


The three-dimensional (3D) structure of neural circuits represents an essential constraint for information flow in the brain. Methods to directly monitor streams of excitation, at subcellular and millisecond resolution, are at present lacking. Here, we describe a pipeline of tools that allow investigating information flow by simulating electrical signals that propagate through anatomically realistic models of average neural networks. The pipeline comprises three blocks. First, we review tools that allow fast and automated acquisition of 3D anatomical data, such as neuron soma distributions or reconstructions of dendrites and axons from in vivo labeled cells. Second, we introduce NeuroNet, a tool for assembling the 3D structure and wiring of average neural networks. Finally, we introduce a simulation framework, NeuroDUNE, to investigate structure-function relationships within networks of full-compartmental neuron models at subcellular, cellular and network levels. We illustrate the pipeline by simulations of a reconstructed excitatory network formed between the thalamus and spiny stellate neurons in layer 4 (L4ss) of a cortical barrel column in rat vibrissal cortex. Exciting the ensemble of L4ss neurons with realistic input from an ensemble of thalamic neurons revealed that the location-specific thalamocortical connectivity may result in location-specific spiking of cortical cells. Specifically, a radial decay in spiking probability toward the column borders could be a general feature of signal flow in a barrel column. Our simulations provide insights of how anatomical parameters, such as the subcellular organization of synapses, may constrain spiking responses at the cellular and network levels.

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