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Front Comput Neurosci. 2010 Nov 23;4:141. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2010.00141. eCollection 2010.

Enabling functional neural circuit simulations with distributed computing of neuromodulated plasticity.

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Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-6), Computational and Systems Neuroscience, Research Center Jülich Jülich, Germany.


A major puzzle in the field of computational neuroscience is how to relate system-level learning in higher organisms to synaptic plasticity. Recently, plasticity rules depending not only on pre- and post-synaptic activity but also on a third, non-local neuromodulatory signal have emerged as key candidates to bridge the gap between the macroscopic and the microscopic level of learning. Crucial insights into this topic are expected to be gained from simulations of neural systems, as these allow the simultaneous study of the multiple spatial and temporal scales that are involved in the problem. In particular, synaptic plasticity can be studied during the whole learning process, i.e., on a time scale of minutes to hours and across multiple brain areas. Implementing neuromodulated plasticity in large-scale network simulations where the neuromodulatory signal is dynamically generated by the network itself is challenging, because the network structure is commonly defined purely by the connectivity graph without explicit reference to the embedding of the nodes in physical space. Furthermore, the simulation of networks with realistic connectivity entails the use of distributed computing. A neuromodulated synapse must therefore be informed in an efficient way about the neuromodulatory signal, which is typically generated by a population of neurons located on different machines than either the pre- or post-synaptic neuron. Here, we develop a general framework to solve the problem of implementing neuromodulated plasticity in a time-driven distributed simulation, without reference to a particular implementation language, neuromodulator, or neuromodulated plasticity mechanism. We implement our framework in the simulator NEST and demonstrate excellent scaling up to 1024 processors for simulations of a recurrent network incorporating neuromodulated spike-timing dependent plasticity.


computational neuroscience; distributed computing; integrate-and-fire neurons; large-scale simulations; modeling; neuromodulator; spiking networks; synaptic plasticity

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