Spontaneous neural activity has been increasingly recognized as a subject of key relevance in neuroscience. It exhibits nontrivial spatiotemporal structure reflecting the organization of the underlying neural network and has proved to be closely intertwined with stimulus-induced activity patterns. As an additional contribution in this regard, we report computational studies that strongly suggest that a stimulus-free feature rules the behavior of an important psychophysical measure of the sensibility of a sensory system to a stimulus, the so-called dynamic range. Indeed in this paper we show that the entropy of the distribution of avalanche lifetimes (information efficiency, since it can be interpreted as the efficiency of the network seen as a communication channel) always accompanies the dynamic range in the benchmark model for sensory systems. Specifically, by simulating the Kinouchi-Copelli (KC) model on two broad families of model networks, we generically observed that both quantities always increase or decrease together as functions of the average branching ratio (the control parameter of the KC model) and that the information efficiency typically exhibits critical optimization jointly with the dynamic range (i.e., both quantities are optimized at the same value of that control parameter, that turns out to be the critical point of a nonequilibrium phase transition). In contrast with the practice of taking power laws to identify critical points in most studies describing measured neuronal avalanches, we rely on data collapses as more robust signatures of criticality to claim that critical optimization may happen even when the distribution of avalanche lifetimes is not a power law, as suggested by a recent experiment. Finally, we note that the entropy of the size distribution of avalanches (information capacity) does not always follow the dynamic range and the information efficiency when they are critically optimized, despite being more widely used than the latter to describe the computational capabilities of a neural network. This strongly suggests that dynamical rules allowing a proper temporal matching of the states of the interacting neurons is the key for achieving good performance in information processing, rather than increasing the number of available units.
- Received 3 April 2012
©2013 American Physical Society