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Biophysics of ComputationInformation Processing in Single Neurons$
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Christof Koch

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780195104912

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195104912.001.0001

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Phase Space Analysis Of Neuronal Excitability

Phase Space Analysis Of Neuronal Excitability

(p.172) 7 Phase Space Analysis Of Neuronal Excitability
Biophysics of Computation

Christof Koch

Oxford University Press

The previous chapter provided a detailed description of the currents underlying the generation and propagation of action potentials in the squid giant axon. The Hodgkin-Huxley (1952d) model captures these events in terms of the dynamical behavior of four variables: the membrane potential and three state variables determining the state of the fast sodium and the delayed potassium conductances. This quantitative, conductance-based formalism reproduces the physiological data remarkably well and has been extremely fertile in terms of providing a mathematical framework for modeling neuronal excitability throughout the animal kingdom (for the current state of the art, see McKenna, Davis, and Zornetzer, 1992; Bower and Beeman, 1998; Koch and Segev, 1998). Collectively, these models express the complex dynamical behaviors observed experimentally, including pulse generation and threshold behavior, adaptation, bursting, bistability, plateau potentials, hysteresis, and many more. However, these models are difficult to construct and require detailed knowledge of the kinetics of the individual ionic currents. The large number of associated activation and inactivation functions and other parameters usually obscures the contributions of particular features (e.g., the activation range of the sodium activation particle) toward the observed dynamic phenomena. Even after many years of experience in recording from neurons or modeling them, it is a dicey business predicting the effect that varying one parameter, say, the amplitude of the calcium-dependent slow potassium current (Chap. 9), has on the overall behavior of the model. This precludes the development of insight and intuition, since the numerical complexity of these models prevents one from understanding which important features in the model are responsible for a particular phenomenon and which are irrelevant. Qualitative models of neuronal excitability, capturing some of the topological aspects of neuronal dynamics but at a much reduced complexity, can be very helpful in this regard, since they highlight the crucial features responsible for a particular behavior. By topological aspects we mean those properties that remain unchanged in spite of quantitative changes in the underlying system. These typically include the existence of stable solutions and their basins of attraction, limit cycles, bistability, and the existence of strange attractors.

Keywords:   Bifurcation parameter, Current input, Fixed points, Hard excitation, Isoclines, Linearization, Morris-Lecar model, Neuronal excitability, Phase plane portraits, Refractory period

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