Blue Brain Simulations

This module is based on what you have learned in modules 3 to 6: how single cells function, how they are connected via (plastic) synapses to each other and how they might perform specific computations. Here we actually connect a network of neurons (using the “blue machine super computer”) so that we can simulate mathematically the activity of a large network (the “Blue Brain Project” BBP centered in EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland). We know how to simulate a single neuron (the Hodgkin and Huxley model) and how to simulate synapses and dendritic cable (Wilfrid Rall model) so we can connect neuron models and build realistic networks in the computer. We started with simulating the mammalian neocortex, a relatively new structure in evolution (200 million years old). In each cubic mm of the neocortex (e.g., of rat), there are about 100,000 cells, 4 Km of wires (dendrites and axons) and about 100 million synapses. We can today integrate experimental data (anatomical and physiological) and mathematical methods, and come close to simulating the electrical and synaptic activity in several cubic mm of the neocortex. We will learn about the neocortex - including the neuron types it consists of - and how we go about simulating such a huge neural circuit. We will next discuss what could we learn from it and what are we aiming at next. We will end by describing the recently announced, EU Flagship Project – the “Human Brain Project” (HBP). The BBP served as a seed for the HBP, but the latter is much broader and even more ambitious, aiming at developing new approaches for treatments of brain diseases (so urgently needed) and advancing the future of neuroscience and of brain-inspired computing and robotics.

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