Understanding how the dynamics of a neural network is shaped by the network structure and, consequently, how the network structure facilitates the functions implemented by the neural system is at the core of using mathematical models to elucidate brain functions. This study investigates the tracking dynamics of continuous attractor neural networks (CANNs). Due to the translational invariance of neuronal recurrent interactions, CANNs can hold a continuous family of stationary states. They form a continuous manifold in which the neural system is neutrally stable. We systematically explore how this property facilitates the tracking performance of a CANN, which is believed to have clear correspondence with brain functions. By using the wave functions of the quantum harmonic oscillator as the basis, we demonstrate how the dynamics of a CANN is decomposed into different motion modes, corresponding to distortions in the amplitude, position, width, or skewness of the network state. We then develop a perturbation approach that utilizes the dominating movement of the network's stationary states in the state space. This method allows us to approximate the network dynamics up to an arbitrary accuracy depending on the order of perturbation used. We quantify the distortions of a gaussian bump during tracking and study their effects on tracking performance. Results are obtained on the maximum speed for a moving stimulus to be trackable and the reaction time for the network to catch up with an abrupt change in the stimulus.

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