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Applications of discrete mathematics for understanding dynamics of synapses and networks in neuroscience

Caitlyn M Parmelee, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Mathematical modeling has broad applications in neuroscience whether we are modeling the dynamics of a single synapse or the dynamics of an entire network of neurons. In Part I, we model vesicle replenishment and release at the photoreceptor synapse to better understand how visual information is processed. In Part II, we explore a simple model of neural networks with the goal of discovering how network structure shapes the behavior of the network. Vision plays an important role in how we interact with our environments. To fully understand how visual information is processed requires an understanding of the way signals are transformed at the very first synapse: the ribbon synapse of photoreceptor neurons (rods and cones). These synapses possess a ribbon-like structure on which approximately 100 synaptic vesicles can be stored, allowing graded responses through the release of different numbers of vesicles in response to visual input. These responses depend critically on the ability of the ribbon to replenish itself as ribbon sites empty upon release. The rate of vesicle replenishment is thus an important factor in shaping neural coding in the retina. In collaboration with experimental neuroscientists we developed a mathematical model to describe the dynamics of vesicle release and replenishment at the ribbon synapse. To learn more about how network architecture shapes the dynamics of the network, we study a specific type of threshold-linear network that is constructed from a simple directed graph. These networks are particularly well suited for our study because the network construction guarantees that differences in dynamics arise solely from differences in the connectivity of the underlying graph. By design, the activity of these networks is bounded and there are no stable fixed points. Computational experiments show that most of these networks yield limit cycles where the neurons fire in sequence. Can we predict the order in which the neurons fire? To this end, we devised an algorithm to predict the sequence of firing using the structure of the underlying graph. Using the algorithm we classify all the networks of this type on five or fewer nodes.

Subject Area

Neurosciences|Applied Mathematics|Mathematics

Recommended Citation

Parmelee, Caitlyn M, "Applications of discrete mathematics for understanding dynamics of synapses and networks in neuroscience" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10140362.