Wired for avalanches -- and learning

May 2, 2012

The brain's neurons are coupled together into vast and complex networks called circuits. Yet despite their complexity, these circuits are capable of displaying striking examples of collective behavior such as the phenomenon known as "neuronal avalanches," brief bursts of activity in a group of interconnected neurons that set off a cascade of increasing excitation.

In a paper published in the American Institute of Physics' journal , an international team of researchers from China, Hong Kong, and Australia explores connections between neuronal avalanches and a model of learning – a rule for how neurons "choose" to connect among themselves in response to stimuli. The learning model, called spike time-dependent plasticity, is based on observations of real behavior in the .

The researchers' simulations reveal that the complex neuronal circuit obtained from the learning model would also be good at generating neuronal avalanches. This agreement between the model and a real, proven behavior of suggests that the learning model is an accurate way to describe how the brain processes information.

The authors say their work could aid an understanding of how learning could lead to the formation of cortical structures in the brain, as well as why the resulting structures are so efficient at processing large amounts of information. "While [the finding] is entirely consistent with existing neurophysiology, our work is the first to provide this concrete link" between this particular learning rule and neuronal , says co-author Michael Small of the University of Western Australia. "It provides a simple, and therefore perhaps surprising, explanation for how a system as complex as the cortex can generate such striking collective behavior."

Explore further: Scientists discover brain structures associated with learning

More information: doi: 10.1063/1.3701946

Related Stories

Watching neurons learn

April 26, 2012

What happens at the level of individual neurons while we learn? This question intrigued the neuroscientist Daniel Huber, who recently arrived at the Department of Basic Neuroscience at the University of Geneva. During his ...

Recommended for you

New mechanism discovered behind infant epilepsy

September 3, 2015

Scientists at Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden have discovered a new explanation for severe early infant epilepsy. Mutations in the gene encoding the protein KCC2 can cause the disease, hereby ...

Neuron responsible for alcoholism found

September 2, 2015

Scientists have pinpointed a population of neurons in the brain that influences whether one drink leads to two, which could ultimately lead to a cure for alcoholism and other addictions.

Deciphering the olfactory receptor code

August 31, 2015

In animals, numerous behaviors are governed by the olfactory perception of their surrounding world. Whether originating in the nose of a mammal or the antennas of an insect, perception results from the combined activation ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

billye22
not rated yet May 02, 2012
"Neuronal avalanches" remind me of flocks of birds.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.