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Relating Circuit Dynamics to Computation: Robustness and Dimension-specific Computation in Cortical Dynamics

Center for Studies in Physics and Biology Seminar Series

  • This event already took place in October 2023
  • Carson Family Auditorium (CRC)

Event Details

Special Seminar Series
Shaul Druckmann, Ph.D., assistant professor, Stanford University
Speaker bio(s)

Neural dynamics represent the hard-to-interpret substrate of circuit computations. Advances in large-scale recordings have highlighted the sheer spatiotemporal complexity of circuit dynamics within and across circuits, portraying in detail the difficulty of interpreting such dynamics and relating it to computation. Indeed, even in extremely simplified experimental conditions, one observes high-dimensional temporal dynamics in the relevant circuits. This complexity can be potentially addressed by the notion that not all changes in population activity have equal meaning, i.e., a small change in the evolution of activity along a particular dimension may have a bigger effect on a given computation than a large change in another. We term such conditions dimension-specific computation. If the brain operates under such conditions, our chances of being able to learn what computations a circuit is performing from observing its activity will be greatly improved. Considering motor preparatory activity in a delayed response task we utilized neural recordings performed simultaneously with optogenetic perturbations to probe circuit dynamics. First, we revealed a remarkable robustness in the detailed evolution of certain dimensions of the population activity, beyond what was thought to be the case experimentally and theoretically. Second, the robust dimension in activity space carries nearly all of the decodable behavioral information whereas other non-robust dimensions contained nearly no decodable information, as if the circuit was setup to make informative dimensions stiff, i.e., resistive to perturbations, leaving uninformative dimensions sloppy, i.e., sensitive to perturbations. Finally, we show that this robustness can be achieved by a modular organization of circuitry, whereby modules whose dynamics normally evolve independently can correct each other’s dynamics when an individual module is perturbed, a common design feature in robust systems engineering.

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