We consider a fast-slow excitable system subject to a stochastic excitatory input train and show that under general conditions, its long-term behavior is captured by an irreducible Markov chain with a limiting distribution. This limiting distribution allows for the analytical calculation of the system's probability of firing in response to each input, the expected number of response failures between firings, and the distribution of slow variable values between firings. Moreover, using this approach, it is possible to understand why the system will not have a stationary distribution and why Monte Carlo simulations do not converge under certain conditions. The analytical calculations involved can be performed whenever the distribution of interexcitation intervals and the recovery dynamics of the slow variable are known. The method can be extended to other models that feature a single variable that builds up to a threshold where an instantaneous spike and reset occur. We also discuss how the Markov chain analysis generalizes to any pair of input trains, excitatory or inhibitory and synaptic or not, such that the frequencies of the two trains are sufficiently different from each other. We illustrate this analysis on a model thalamocortical (TC) cell subject to two example distributions of excitatory synaptic inputs in the cases of constant and rhythmic inhibition. The analysis shows a drastic drop in the likelihood of firing just after inhibitory onset in the case of rhythmic inhibition, relative even to the case of elevated but constant inhibition. This observation provides support for a possible mechanism for the induction of motor symptoms in Parkinson's disease and for their relief by deep brain stimulation, analyzed in Rubin and Terman (2004).

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