Mathematical Neuroscience

Edinburgh, April 19-21, 2010

Organisers: Stephen Coombes (Nottingham) and Yulia Timofeeva (Warwick)

"The meeting that rose from the ashes"
Peter Dayan (Gatsby, UCL)

This three-day conference was the third annual conference of the UK Mathematical Neuroscience Network and was focused on the current state of research in mathematical approaches to neuroscience. 100 participants initially registered for the meeting and expected to actively participate in the international conference with 12 international speakers (from Europe, USA and China) and 3 national speakers. However, nobody could predict that Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökul would erupt on 14 April 2010 and would destroy the original well-planned schedule of the whole meeting. The closure of airspace over the UK and most part of northwest Europe left many participants stranded during their trip to Edinburgh. Despite valiant attempts, none of the 12 international speakers managed to reach Edinburgh, with the winner of this impromptu race being John White (University of Utah) who succeeded in getting as close as Brussels. The other (mainly UK) attendees had to use any means of transportation other than a plane to get to the meeting and thanks to their persistence there were around 65 participants at the conference. Fortunately a set of replacement speakers was readily available and we were delighted that they all enthusiastically accepted the offer to speak at short notice. Many many thanks go out to this collection of talented individuals whose efforts ensured that we could run a full and vibrant programme (both the original and amended programmes can be found here).

Monday 19 April

Rasmus Petersen (University of Manchester) opened the meeting with a talk on studying how the neurons in a thalamic barreloid process the sensory signals from the corresponding rat whisker using both experimental and theoretical approaches. Next, Yulia Timofeeva (University of Warwick) demonstrated the analytical derivation of synaptic scaling rules which allows one to estimate the distribution of conductances in real neural cells for achieving so-called “dendritic democracy”. These distributions are usually not known from experiment. Kevin Gurney (University of Sheffield) discussed the relation between computational models of the basal ganglia at different structural levels of description and the links between mechanistic and algorithmic approaches. Then, Matthias Hennig (University of Edinburgh) demonstrated a novel computational model for spontaneous activity in the developing retina suggesting that the network producing early-stage retinal waves shows a behaviour close to a percolation phase transition. Peter Dayan (University College London) talked about exact and approximate versions of statistical models of visual processing that are able to capture psychophysical data on the tilt illusion and salience processing and physiological data relating to surround stimuli. The first day finished productively with a well-attended poster session and reception.

Tuesday 20 April

The second day began with a talk by Mark van Rossum (University of Edinburgh) who introduced a synaptic information capacity measure based on Shannon information and used this measure to find  the optimal weight dependent learning rules that show some increase in memory capacity. Nicholas Lesica (University College London) discussed statistical methods applied to early sensory systems for analysing experimental data collected from many neurons. Such methods could advance our understanding of the brain as a complex network of interconnected populations. John Terry (University of Bristol) showed that by introducing a mathematical model related to human EEG and using dynamical systems techniques it is possible to explain the transition between healthy and seizure states in subjects with epilepsy. Paul Bressloff (University of Oxford) demonstrated how mathematics can be successfully used for studying the visual cortex and how it processes information by describing a theory of geometric visual hallucinations. The post-lunch session was dedicated to a discussion about future MNN activities and the evolution of the network and was led by David Willshaw (University of Edinburgh).

Scientific discussions continued later that day during the workshop dinner served at Howies restaurant.

Wednesday 21 April

The final day started with a talk by Stephen Coombes (University of Nottingham) who demonstrated how the dynamics of a network of oscillating Morris-Lecar neurons coupled by synaptic or gap junctions can be studied in both the weak and strong coupling regimes. Alexander Lerchner (University College London) introduced a unifying theory showing that different inputs applied to the same cortical network can generate different dynamical states and that transitions between such states have much bearing on recent experiments in visual cortex. Then, Dan Goodman (École Normale Supérieure) discussed his recent work on spike timing based neural mechanisms for sound localisation and highlighted the advantages of the 'Brian' software package for simulating spiking neural networks. Finally Bruce Graham (University of Stirling) introduced a biologically plausible model of intracellular pathways for studying the mechanisms involved in morphological changes in developing neurons.

The main meeting was preceded by a one-day training workshop for PhD students and post-docs entitled‚ “An introduction to Mathematical Neuroscience”, with lecture slides available here.

This conference was sponsored by the EPSRC via the UK Mathematical Neuroscience Network.

Report prepared by Yulia Timofeeva and Stephen Coombes, April 25th, 2010.