We introduce a framework for simulating signal propagation in geometric networks (networks that can be mapped to geometric graphs in some space) and developing algorithms that estimate (i.e., map) the state and functional topology of complex dynamic geometric networks. Within the framework, we define the key features typically present in such networks and of particular relevance to biological cellular neural networks: dynamics, signaling, observation, and control. The framework is particularly well suited for estimating functional connectivity in cellular neural networks from experimentally observable data and has been implemented using graphics processing unit high-performance computing. Computationally, the framework can simulate cellular network signaling close to or faster than real time. We further propose a standard test set of networks to measure performance and compare different mapping algorithms.
Complex dynamic networks permeate many real-world engineering and biological applications. The development of mathematical and computational tools for understanding and predicting network dynamics will be key to manipulating and interacting with such real-world networks. Network theory is a subset of graph theory where the connections between vertices have a number value describing some attribute of that connection, such as bandwidth, flow rates, or a cost function. Complex networks are defined to have a nonstandard topology (i.e., the functional links between nodes in the network), implying some structure in the connectivity pattern of the network beyond a simple lattice or complete random connectivity. Biological cellular neural networks are both complex and dynamic, meaning that the connection attribute between any two vertices may change with respect to time and, more important, individual vertices exhibit their own nonlinear signaling dynamics. Complex functional interactions of networks made up of large numbers of neurons and glia presumably produce emergent systems-level phenomena such as consciousness and self-awareness and are responsible for how neural information is represented and processed. Changes in the structure of such networks underlie the development of multidimensional central nervous system disorders. For example, hypersynchronous neuronal and glial activity in networks of neurons are associated with the paroxysmal depolarization shifts that underlie epilepsy (Tian et al., 2005; Sudbury & Avoli, 2007; Wetherington, Serrano, & Dingledine, 2008; Feldt, Osterhage, Mormann, Lehnertz, & Zochowski, 2007). Ultimately the physiological behavior of a neural cell network is dependent on both its functional topology and the dynamics of individual cells.
Within a complex dynamic network, there are two topologies: a static structural topology that describes all the possible connections within the network and a dynamic functional topology that establishes how a signal propagates through the static topology. Functional topologies are subsets of the structural topology and vary depending on the functional connectivity, internal dynamics of individual vertices, and the specific stimulus to the network. In other words, cells that are physically connected need not necessarily signal each other. Having said this, though, in cellular neural circuits and networks, structure and function influence each other, and the states of cells and the connections between them may change with time as a function of plasticity mechanisms. However, structural changes in the physical connectivity of a cellular neural network leading to changes in the connectivity topology occur on a very different timescale than functional changes that can be influenced relatively quickly by plasticity mechanisms that produce changes in signaling efficacy between cells (i.e., changes in connectivity weights). While the observation of the structural network topology of cellular neural networks may be experimentally very challenging (and is the focus of much intense research), it is a relatively straightforward task. The observation of functional topologies in biological neural networks, however, poses additional experimental and theoretical challenges that need to be considered. Signaling events and resultant networks may be unique and be observable only once as a signal propagates through a network. The functional topology is dynamic and may change during observation. Noise and unknown external factors limit observability and reduce repeatability. These factors make the estimation of functional connectivity from observed activity a difficult task, though a critical one for systems neuroscience if we are to understand how dynamic functional signaling in the brain at the level of networks and circuits produces responses and behaviors in the organism.
Current approaches for studying cellular neural networks can be roughly classified into three categories. The first and most popular among experimentalists are statistical methods that correlate the activities of two or more neurons in a network. This provides purely descriptive statistics about the behavior of cells. For the most part, statistical approaches make no underlying assumptions about the cellular and systems dynamics that give rise to observed signals in a network of cells. Or, put differently, correlations do not imply causality. Another way to study networks is through simulation of networks with known connectivities and dynamic parameters in order to simulate real-world observed system-level phenomena such as vision and audition. Using well-established environments like NEURON or Genesis, many real-world phenomena have been described through simulation. However, dynamic parameters and functional connections are manually specified in simulation environments such as these in order to achieve results that mimic biological function, requiring the estimation of experimentally unobservable variables. The third category is in some ways the reverse process to simulation, where temporal data are used with appropriate models in order to estimate parameters. Within this third category, we introduce a modeling framework for using real-world data to map the functional topology of complex dynamic networks. While not a mapping algorithm or simulation environment, the framework formally defines key features of cellular neural network signaling and experimental constraints associated with observation and stimulus control and can accommodate any appropriate model of intracellular dynamics. Alongside the definition of the framework, a test set of synthetic networks with known connectivities is provided to help the development of mapping algorithms by providing a common benchmark any such algorithm should be able to map. In a subsequent article to this one, we will introduce an approach that will estimate and map the functional topology of complex networks with unknown connectivities given limited and often noisy observations that takes advantage of the results introduced here.
The proposed framework has a number of unique properties that make it particularly applicable to the constraints and experimental limitations imposed by real biological cellular neural networks. First, dynamic activity and signaling is modeled at the individual node (i.e., cell) scale. The dynamics of individual cells are modeled as state sets, with transition functions describing their evolution across discrete time steps. Cellular resolution was chosen because it represents the best compromise between observability, dynamics, and complexity. Large numbers of individual cells can now be observed in parallel in functional neural networks using optical microscopy (Homma et al., 2009; Benninger, Hao, & Piston, 2008; Garaschuk et al., 2006; Nikolenko, Poskanzer, & Yuste, 2007). Single-cell neuronal dynamics are well understood, and many models exist (see Dayan, Abbott, & Abbott, 2001; Trappenberg, 2002), while similar models of single-cell astrocyte dynamics are beginning to emerge (Stamatakis & Mantzaris, 2006; Nadkarni, Jung, Levine, & Graham, 2008; Pittà, Volman, Levine, & Ben-Jacob, 2009; Bennett, 2005; Lavrentovich & Hemkin 2008). Attempting to go to a finer, subcellular compartmental resolution dramatically increases the complexity of the model and computational demand, and is generally not experimentally observable at a network level. Second, cells are located in physical space, and their positions are easily determinable during experimental observation. When connected, cellular networks form geometric networks. Third, the effect of a signal on a target cell is defined as a state change in the target cell in response to the influence of a source cell that connects to it. That influence is not instantaneous and is delayed by the physical distance between cells and the speed of transmission. Signals are modulated in strength by functional weights that establish the magnitude of the influence. Fourth, to more realistically simulate experimental conditions and measurements, noise can be added to multiple levels within the framework, from parameters to state and observation variables. Finally, experimental user-defined controls at the individual cell level are defined within the framework. Controls should be designed to make observations more informative of the network dynamics, but should not change the underlying parameters and connectivities. The framework is described in detail in section 2. The results section (section 3) shows how single-cell dynamic models are integrated within the framework and how network connectivity is established from individual cells. In section 3.2 we also describe how the framework accommodates plasticity mechanisms. Section 3.3 discusses experimental observability associated with optical calcium imaging, and section 3.4 discusses the practical implementation of the framework using high-performance graphical processing unit (GPU) computing.
In section 3.5 we use the framework to propose a standard set of benchmark test networks of varying sizes and topologies to evaluate and compare different network mapping algorithms. Mapping algorithms would have access to simulated observable data (i.e., simulated experimental data) generated by the framework as a function of chosen test networks and be required to derive the unobservable parameters and functional network connectivity. The concept of a standardized test to gauge the effectiveness of an algorithm is not new, especially for optimization algorithms. For example, in the field of nonlinear programming and optimization, a standard benchmark set was established in a landmark collection of test problems (Hock & Schittkowski, 1980) that are used for testing any nonlinear optimization algorithm. Test collections have grown and developed into problem environments, providing the underlying problem code to be used directly by the optimizers (Bondarenko, Bortz, & More, 1999; Gould, 1995). By providing a set of problems with known solutions, algorithm developers have a standard by which to measure solution accuracies, convergence rates, computation times, and suitability to different problem types. We propose that a similar test set for algorithms designed to identify and map functional cellular neural networks and circuits will be just as useful. To address this, we have developed computer code that generates observable data from a known network and connectivity. The code encompasses all the elements of the framework, runs in real time for all the test networks, and is designed for parallel computation. It can therefore be used as a starting point for mapping algorithms.
2. A Framework for Dynamics, Signaling, Control, and Observation in Geometric Networks
The framework presented here is general, as it allows communication between any two state variables between any two vertices. Transition functions and their parameters are defined specific to vertex or communication between vertex pairs . This produces a large set of functions and parameters, though in practice, one or two different functions are applied to all cells or combinations. The weighing set can operate on all state variables of the connecting vertex i into target j, though usually one state of i is transmitted to one state in j. In the next section, we describe how several dynamics and communication models used to describe individual neurons and cellular neural networks fit within this framework to reproduce observable quantities similar to experimentally measured data.
The framework can accommodate essentially all models of both neuronal and astrocytic dynamics. Independent of the specifics of any single-cell model chosen, the framework provides a compact mathematical structure that quantitatively describes signaling and information propagation and flow in geometrically defined networks. The geometry and physical connectivity topology of the network can be simulated (e.g., random, scale free, or small world) or measured from experimental data using methods such as optical imaging. Regardless of how one chooses to set up the network, the framework provides a description of information flow through the network given knowledge of temporal signaling delays and chosen single-cell models, or can be used to identify and map unknown functional connectivities and parameters in real neural circuits and networks. In all cases, the framework is able to provide an estimate of the complete description of the functional network and the interaction between all observable and hidden state variables and parameters. Figure 1 illustrates a simple five-vertex example that summarizes everything that is needed to describe the functional dynamics of information flow through a network. Figure 2 provides a specific example of the network from Figure 1 using a Hodgkin-Huxley model and simulating 1 second worth of data. Note how the framework provides experimentally measurable variables (calcium and membrane voltage) for every cell in the network in the temporal sequence dictated by the geometry and connectivity of the network.
3.1. Individual Cell Dynamics.
Similarly, any model can be accommodated and fit into the framework, from the simplest to the most complex. Traditionally all neuronal models have membrane voltage as a state variable and propagate a discrete signal in the form of an action potential when the membrane voltage rises past some threshold value at the axon hillock in response to depolarizing and hyperpolarizing currents in dendrites mediated by spatial and temporal summation of presynaptic currents. The simplest neuronal model, the leaky integrate and fire (LIF), has voltage as a single state variable that decays to a target value and is perturbed by incoming currents. If the voltage rises past a threshold value, it is reset at the next time step to a reset value. One of the most complex and realistic single-cell models is the Hodgkin-Huxley (HH) model, which relies on four state variables to describe the dynamics responsible for the generation of action potentials. The number of parameters increases with the number of state variables, from 4 in the LIF model to 22 for the HH model. Additionally, the required time step is shorter for HH models, being on the order of 0.03 milliseconds compared to as much as 5.0 milliseconds for the LIF model. The increased number of state variables and parameters along with shorter time steps puts a significant computational burden on any simulation or mapping algorithm. The question of which model and how much complexity is required to best describe real-world data is not trivial and depends on the purpose and intent of the modeling and mapping.
Although considerably more limited than the number of existing and studied neuronal dynamic models, a few astrocyte dynamic models emphasize differing aspects and processes of astrocyte signaling (Stamatakis & Mantzaris, 2006; Nadkarni et al., 2008; Pittà et al., 2009; Bennett, 2005; Lavrentovich & Hemkin, 2008; Macdonald, Yu, Buibas, & Silva, 2008). Astrocyte models are expressed in differential forms similar to equation 2.18. Further research into astrocytic models is important, though, because astrocytes have been shown to play a direct role in the bidirectional communication between themselves and neurons via intracellular calcium transients and intercellular calcium waves under controlled experimental conditions (Fields & Stevens-Graham, 2002; Agulhon et al., 2008; Verkhratsky, 2006; Coco et al., 2003; Macdonald et al., 2008; Scemes & Giaume, 2006) and, more recently, physiologic conditions in the neural retina (Kurth-Nelson, Mishra, & Newman, 2009) and cerebellum (Hoogland, Kuhn, Göbel, & Huang, 2009). Pathophysiologically intercellular calcium waves in astrocytes independent of neuronal hyperactivity have recently been shown to occur spontaneously in vivo in the APP/PS1 transgenic mouse model of AlzheimerÕs disease (Kuchibhotla, Lattarulo, Hyman, & Bacskai, 2009); and our own group has shown that amyloid beta is sufficient to trigger complex temporally delayed intercellular calcium waves in isolated astrocyte networks (Chow, Yu, Macdonald, Buibas, & Silva, 2009).
The state transition framework handles all single-cell dynamic models, as well as heterogeneous systems of different cell types, by either different parameter sets or state transition function sets, or both. Whatever the dynamics of individual neurons or astrocytes, all perform the same general task whereby processes and inputs generate outputs to other cells in a connected network.
3.2. Cellular Network Signaling.
There are three components to cellular signaling: how long it takes for information from one cell to reach another, what the effects of one cell on another are, and how those effects change through time given the relative dynamics of the two connected cells. In this section we describe how signaling delays, functional connectivity, and plasticity are accomodated by the framework.
3.2.1 Signaling Delays.
Here the delay is simply the Euclidean distance between the cell centers divided by the transmission speed. For a diffusive network, as is the case with astrocytes, delays are proportional to the square of the distance between vertices. A more complex delay function may take into account knowledge about the particular physiology of the network, curved paths between cells, and nonuniform speeds, for example. The dependence of the framework on the delays is critical to its ability to describe how and when information within the network is processed, ultimately to a significant degree dictating the intercellular dynamics of the overall neural circuit or network.
Figure 3 illustrates the dependency of network dynamics on signaling speed and delay times in a 100-vertex three-dimensional network by varying the intercellular signaling speed, with everything else, including its geometry (i.e., its physical connectivity), the functional connectivity, and input stimulus, remaining the same. We stimulated all cells with 500 ms of depolarizing current. The delays are inversely proportional to the signal propagation speed. We illustrate the effects of three signaling speeds: 2, 20, and 200 pixels per ms. At the lowest signaling speed, 2 pixels per ms, a low-frequency periodic activity was produced that qualitatively resembles a central pattern generator. At a speed of 20 pixels per ms, fewer cells exhibited low-frequency oscillations, and signaling became more sporadic. For both the 2- and 20-pixel per ms propagation speeds, however, signaling continued past the period of stimulation. At a propagation speed of 200 pixels per ms, however, there was no signaling past the stimulus period. In fully recurrent networks such as the one illustrated here, delays serve as a form of signal storage, essentially giving cells time to recover from a refractory period between activations, which maintains recurrent signaling propagation well beyond an initial stimulus. For some appropriate range of signaling speeds, and therefore delay times, this recurrent signaling can settle into a repeatable pattern. If, however, the signaling speeds are too fast, incoming signaling from upstream cells never has an opportunity to activate downstream cells because the cells are still refractory and do not respond. As a result, signaling in the network quickly dies away since it is not sustained without being driven by an external stimulus, as is the case with speeds of 200 pixels per ms in this example. A full discussion of the dependency of the network dynamics on the variables that govern it is very involved and beyond the scope of this letter. However, this example serves to illustrate that along with a network's connectivity topology and individual vertex dynamics, signaling delays play a crucial role in its overall response and dynamics and must be part of any network simulation or modeling framework that attempts to capture the inherent behaviors of neurobiological networks.
3.2.2 Functional Connectivity.
The other component of signaling is the functional connectivity of the network, or how the state of one vertex influences the state of another. In equation 2.2, the set Yj collects all the states of all the vertices in the network except j, delayed by a time value relative to j. When Yj is passed into the transition function Hj, the information contained in every state of every other vertex is made available to all state variables in vertex j. Within the framework, this is the broadest possible scope of connectivity, though in practice, typically information from one variable affects one or more variables in another vertex.
Up to this point, we have described models with fixed functional connectivity strengths. This assumption is valid for networks observed over short periods where connection strengths can be assumed to be constant for the purposes of mapping or simulating since the plasticity mechanisms that modulate connection strengths operate on longer timescales. If the weights change as a function of the activities of the cells it connects, the framework can be used to modulate connective strengths (see equations 2.9 and 2.10a). Just as with single-cell dynamics and network connectivity, there are many models of plasticity, and we will not attempt to list or review them all here. Rather, we describe how a simple spike-time-dependent plasticity model reviewed by Bi and Poo (2001) that incorporates long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) can be easily implemented within the proposed framework.
In equation 2.9, we described the functional strength or weight with transition function Gij analogous to the state set for individual neurons. When the weight is constant, the set contains only one variable, so , and there is no temporal change in and no transition function or parameters. However, if the weight is modulated by the activity of cell i on j (the connection is directional, so modulates information flowing from i to j), then the states and yj(t) affect how changes in time.
The neuronal plasticity model in Bi and Poo (2001) describes strengthening and weakening of synaptic conductance based on the timing of spikes in pre- and postsynaptic neuronal spiking. If a postsynaptic spike occurs immediately after a presynaptic spike, the synaptic conductance is increased and the functional connection is effectively strengthened. If the postsynaptic neuron spikes before the presynaptic neurons, the connection is weakened. Other conditions like spike coincidence or long times between the spikes of pre- and postsynaptic neurons have no affect on the synaptic conductance.
3.3. Experimental Observability Through Calcium Observation.
Typically only one or a few of the state variables in the state vector are available for observation (i.e., are experimentally measurable). This is certainly the case with cellular networks, especially in neurons where voltage is measured as an indicator of signaling activity. But simultaneous voltage measurements are difficult for networks of many neurons, where the geometry of the network may be important to the analysis or interpretation of the data. While high-density planar multielectrode arrays can record from a few hundred cells at once, it is typically not possible to correlate recorded activity with the native geometry of the network. (There is one notable exception to this that we are aware of, which is the ganglion cell monolayer in the peripheral retina. Chichilnisky and colleagues are able to computationally infer the geometry and functional activity of these retinal ganglion cells due to their unique planar arrangement. See Pillow, Paninski, Uzzell, Simoncelli, & Chichilnisky, 2005; Shlens, Rieke, & Chichilnisky, 2008; Chichilnisky & Baylor, 1999. However, in the brain and even in the retina where mutlilayered ganglion cells receive incoming macular inputs, it is not possible to do with electrode arrays.) Given the challenges associated with direct electrophysiological measurements of large neuronal ensembles, calcium fluorescence imaging has been used as an indirect measure of the dynamics of large neuronal netwokrs. The dynamics of calcium, often influenced by voltage spiking, are modeled as state variables and associated transition functions added to the state set. A few models describe the time course of calcium as it is driven by changes in membrane voltage, and the research to develop more refined and robust calcium dynamics models specifically for the study neural microcircuits and networks is very active. Our intent here is not to describe ongoing efforts or the state of the art but simply to illustrate the integration of one such model within our framework.
Since the framework is defined at cellular resolution, we are making the simplifying assumption that the recorded intensity represents the average intensity for the region of interest demarcating a specific cell j within a larger field. Additionally, if the camera records at a slower frequency than the transition dynamics , where fcamera is the camera recording frequency and is the time increment (see equation 2.5), one is averaging intensity values for the duration that the camera shutter stays open. If this is the case, then multiple sequential calcium concentration values would be averaged to produce a single intensity reading.
3.4. GPU Implementation and Benchmarks.
The practical application of the theoretical framework for both simulation and, as will be described in a subsequent article, mapping the unknown functional connectivity of experimentally observed cellular networks necessitates its implementation in an appropriate computing environment. We have taken advantage of emerging high-performance general-purpose graphics processing unit (GPU) parallel computing, although it can run as serial code on a normal central processing unit (CPU), which we have also tested. Within the GPU environment, the code has been designed to run on nVIDIA graphics cards equipped with the CUDA interface (see http://www.nvidia.com/cuda). In this way, we can parallelize vertex dynamics, signaling dynaimcs, and observation integrations over many processor cores, achieving significant speed-up over CPU or cluster computations. The framework and associated single-cell dynamic and network connectivity models have been coded as compact Matlab-callable libraries. All graphics user interface (GUI) and input-output (I/O) operations are handled through Matlab, and the code has been written in both Matlab and C/C++ libraries that communicate through Matlab. The libraries offer direct control over all parameters for all vertices. Using concise language, any model that can be analytically described within the framework can be easily coded into a simulation library. From a practical experimental perspective, GPU computation offers unprecedented scalability to larger systems with full access to all state variables and parameters, enabling rapid parallel simulation when the framework is run in the forward direction and real-time dynamic mapping when the framework is applied to the inverse problem of mapping unknown functional connectivities of cellular neural networks. Speed and parallelization are critical for statistical simulation-based identification methods such as particle filtering to operate in real time or near real time.
Benchmarks in Figure 4 show the relative speeds of the CPU and GPU implementations of two different dynamic cell models within the framework, an Izhikevitch model and a Hodgkin-Huxley model, simulated in 40 test networks (see section 3.5 regarding the test networks). The parallel GPU implementation performed anywhere from 8 to 200 times faster than the same code executed on a single CPU process. Performance was measured as a slowdown or speed-up factor relative to real time. It is important to note that identical code ran on both CPU and GPU, with the former emulating the latter. The Izhikevitch model had six state variables and a time step of 1 millisecond. We simulated 10 seconds worth of data equivalent to 10,000 time steps. The more computationally intensive Hodgkin-Huxley model had eight state variables and a time step of 0.03 milliseconds. One second worth of data was simulated for the HH model, corresponding to about 33,333 time steps. Benchmarks were calculated as the dimensionless ratio of the actual period of time simulated (i.e., real time) to the amount of physical computational time it took the GPU or CPU to carry out the simulations. Because of the parallel implementation on the GPU, the performance fall-off was much slower than on the CPU with increasing network size. In both the CPU and GPU cases, performance decreased with increasing network density (total number of edges or vertices square), since in denser networks, more information is transferred between edges. This is more apparent in the random networks that have higher density than other network classes, producing relatively slower processing speeds.
In general, the constant time step in the framework makes parallelization easy on GPU architectures, delivering network simulation performance near or even faster than real time. Because of the parallel threading on GPUs, performance is only modestly decreased when going from a 100- to a 1000-vertex network. For the HH model, the GPU was able to carry out the computations in essentially real time for all of the networks tested except for the largest random networks, which were about 10 to 15 times slower than real time for random networks with over a thousand vertices (upper left panel in Figure 4). For computationally simpler models such as the Izhikevitch model, the GPU computations were actually faster than the period being simulated (i.e., faster than real time), ranging from roughly 10 to 20 times faster for most networks and about real time for the largest random networks (upper right panel in Figure 4). In contrast, CPU computations were always slower than real time, from 15 to 800 times slower for the HH model depending on the network class and size (lower left panel in Figure 4) and from just under near real time for small 10 vertex networks to about 15 times slower for the largest random networks for the Izhikevitch model (lower right panel in Figure 4). Additional GPU cards can further improve performance by splitting the task of advancing temporal cell dynamics; however, transfer of information between cells is still limited by memory and bus speeds, so dense networks run slower than sparse networks. It is important to appreciate that the ability to carry out such forward simulations or solve the inverse problem of mapping unknown functional connectivity topologies of networks in near real time or faster than real time using GPU computing is due to the mathematical construction of the framework and its efficient algorithmic implementation. It is impossible to do such network simulations or mappings in real time using biophysical compartmental simulation environments. The weaver suite, composed of the Matlab and CUDA code for the framework, are available online at http://www.silva.ucsd.edu/Silva_Lab/Links.html.
3.5. Standardized Tests for Connectivity Estimation.
Finally, we propose a standardized basis test set to evaluate the effectiveness of mapping algorithms. A standard test set is well accepted in the field of nonlinear optimization, providing a standard measure of different algorithms (Hock & Schittkowski, 1980). There are two benefits to having a standard set of networks to use for mapping. First, multiple algorithms can be evaluated against the same network and model, providing relative performance benchmarks. Second, data generated for a network using one dynamic model can be mapped using another dynamic model, and comparisons can be made between the original topology and the mapped topology. This latter approach helps answer questions about model fitness, which are especially useful when trying to map data with multiple models or uncertainty in models. We emphasize that the test set we propose here should in no way be interpreted as implying that the full complexity and variability of real neural circuits and networks are captured or even described by the set. But we argue that any mathematical method or algorithm that claims to be able to deal with real cellular neural networks of any meaningful size (e.g., on the order of tens to hundreds of cells or larger) must at the very least be able to effectively and efficiently map functional networks derived by this test set, which offers a first-order approximation to the dynamics and complexity displayed by such networks.
Here we offer the foundation for such a test set: the location of vertices in physical space and their physical connections based on different connective classes. The choice of dynamic model, parameters, and functional weights is left open and up to the discretion of the individual investigator, since they are specific to the network being studied and the mapping algorithms being designed, but they can be directly implemented within the framework we have developed. Test networks vary in size from 10 to 1000 vertices, covering the range of cells that can be imaged simultaneously with fluorescence microscopy. At the small end of the scale, networks on the order of 10 vertices are about the limit of existing connectivity estimation methods (Makarov, Panetsos, & Feo, 2005; Eldawlatly, Zhou, Jin, & Oweiss, 2010). The upper end of the scale at 1000 vertices was chosen largely due to limits of computational power available at present.
Each graph is composed of N interconnected vertices located in two- or three-dimensional physical space, with minimum distance constraints and other dynamic parameters as described below for each network class. The physical connectivity between vertices follows one of four different graph theoretical classifications, since there is no measurable and “real” network spatial geometry defined in this case (this is also discussed below). Vertices were positioned in geometric space randomly, but with a prescribed minimum distance between neighbors. We developed a simple algorithm to populate a physical space with N cells or nodes:
forj=1 to i − 1 do
if||Xj − Xi|| < dthen
(i.e., if cell Xi is less than d units from cell Xj)
break for loop
iffound = 1 then
Once the vertices are placed in physical space, connections are made using established graph-theoretic classes. We included lattice, small world, scale-free, and random classes in the test set. For each connectivity class, we generated two networks of different edge densities—one with fewer and one with more edges. We chose these four classes because they represent the major graph-theoretic topologies, but of course any other algorithmically defined class can be used. The physical connectivity of a graph intuitively represents a constrained phase space on which dynamic signals propagate in both space and time (i.e., the functional connectivity topology) as determined by the network signaling framework and chosen model of single-cell dynamics. Specifically, we considered the following classes and specific parameters for each:
Lattice networks. This class of networks has only nearest-neighbor connections with no long-distance connections. The number of nearest local connections or total number of edges can be specified before construction. In our case, we limited connections for each vertex to its closest three and eight neighbors.
Small world networks. This is a modification of a lattice network that includes a specified probability of long-range connections (Barabasi & Albert, 1999). The probability of long-range connections ranges between 0 (lattice network) and 1 (random network), but typical values are around 10%, meaning that 10% of all edges are randomly chosen. In our case, we built networks of 5% and 15% probability of random rewiring.
Scale-free networks. These networks follow a power law connection (edge) degree distribution, with many cells having few connections and few cells having many connections. When positional aspects are taken into account, scale-free networks take on some small world properties and are essentially scale-free geometric graphs called apollonian networks (Andrade, Herrmann, Andrade, & Silva, 2005).
Random networks. The study of random graphs extends all the way back to the original work of Erdös and Rényi. In a random graph, a specified number of edges are placed between randomly chosen vertices, without regard for vertex position, which has no meaning. We built random networks of 10% and 20% densities, meaning about or number of edges, where N is the number of vertices in the network. A 100% dense network connects every vertex to every other vertex.
The different classes and densities are shown in Figure 6, along with graph-theoretic statistics on connectivity and wiring lengths. The connections establish the physical connection between vertices or the edges along which functional connections are possible. The magnitude of the functional weights should be chosen based on the dynamic model and the specifics of the system studied. A mapping algorithm must identify the functional connections without knowledge of the physical connectivity class. Delays are defined according to the Cartesian distances between connected vertices. Three-dimensional spaces generally have narrower and smaller distance distributions than two-dimensional packings. The formula presented in equation 3.9 is used to establish delays, with the speed parameter chosen arbitrarily based on the system being studied. The complete test set is 80 networks, combinations of two dimensions, five sizes, and four connectivity classes, as outlined in Table 1. Figure 7 shows an example of simulated calcium response raster plots for the networks shown in Figure 6. A mapping algorithm should be able to identify the dynamics parameters and the functional connectivity of each test network, given a chosen single-cell dynamic model. Ultimately, the only kind of measured experimental data available to any such algorithm would be imaged calcium responses such as those simulated in Figure 7 or some equivalent data for another marker of functional cellular activity. These are the practical experimental constrains that any theoretical methods aimed at mapping functional activity in cellular neural circuits and networks with single-cell resolution must face. The test networks are also available for download from our Web site (http://www.silva.ucsd.edu/Silva_Lab/Links.html).
|Parameter .||Range .|
|Network size N||10, 30, 100, 300, 1000|
|Geometric dimension||2D, 3D (may even be fractal, i.e., 2.5D)|
|Connectivity type||Lattice, small world, scale-free, random|
|Edge density||Low, high|
|Parameter .||Range .|
|Network size N||10, 30, 100, 300, 1000|
|Geometric dimension||2D, 3D (may even be fractal, i.e., 2.5D)|
|Connectivity type||Lattice, small world, scale-free, random|
|Edge density||Low, high|
Notes: The current set is composed of 80 test networks spanning ranges in network size, geometric dimension, connectivity type, and edge density. The choice of dynamical cell model, parameters, functional weights, observation variable, user inputs, and noise levels is left to the individual user.
Within the study of networks, there are two opposing yet deeply interrelated processes: simulation and estimation. Simulation of networks deals with the forward problem of making predictions using an established model and measured parameters and connectivities. The reverse problem, estimation or mapping, uses the result of actual collected data to infer, estimate, or map the parameters of a model or, for networks, functional connectivity. The framework we introduce here can be used for both simulating signal propagation in physically realistic networks and the reverse process of estimating or mapping unknown functional connectivities of networks. The framework is bounded by a set of rules and constraints imposed by the experimental reality of cellular neurobiological methods: complex nonlinear dynamics, limited observability, noise and uncertainty, and experimental control. It is designed around current observation and experimental capabilities, which are shifting from single-neuron multiple trials to multiple-neuron, single-trial experiments (Quiroga & Panzeri, 2009).
Within the framework, the mathematical construction for the dynamic model describes the time course of each vertex. A general state transition representation encompasses different model types, from ordinary differential equations to state machines and Markov models, to simplified neuronal models like LIF and Izhikevitch. The choice of model will certainly affect the estimation of the dynamic parameters from the collected data; how much the single-cell dynamic model affects the estimation of functional weights is is still an open question. The proposed test set should help address this by simulating artificial data with one model and estimating with another.
Mapping a complete functional topology is ultimately a reverse process and will involve some combination of estimation, filtering, and optimization. While some approaches exist for estimating parameters and dynamics of single neurons (Creveling, Jeanne, & Abarbanel, 2008) or small groups of neurons (Makarov et al., 2005; Eichler, Dahlhaus, & Sandkuhler, 2003; Eldawlatly et al., 2010), mapping large networks within biologically realistic constraints remains a challenge, and we are still a long way from establishing a complete functional connectivity map of even simple processes and tasks. Indeed, from a neurophysiological perspective, it is not even entirely clear what we should be mapping or how to properly interpret such data from the perspective of deciphering the neural code. The proposed framework attempts to unify both theoretical and practical considerations as an open standard for the development of large-scale functional topology reconstruction algorithms.
Since the goal of mapping is to identify both the dynamic parameters of individual vertices and the connectivity between vertices, a well-designed input control should be used to make the observation as informative as possible, provided it does not alter the parameters and connectivities of interest. Experimentally, input control can take on many forms. The dynamics of individual cells can be perturbed using methods such as optogenetics, pharmacologically using appropriate agonists and antagonists, and electrophysiology. For single cells, there are different input functions that can be used and a few approaches describing input function design to extract the most amount of information (Lewi, Butera, & Paninski, 2009; Benda, Gollisch, Machens, & Herz, 2007). At the network level, the set of input functions for each cell must be designed in parallel and coordinated with observed activity in order to provide the most amount of information to the mapping algorithm.
We thank the anonymous reviewers for their tremendous effort reading and commenting on the various versions of the submitted manuscript. This work was supported by grant RO1 NS054736 from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health.