Decomposing Neural Circuit Function into Information Processing Primitives

Nicole Voges, Johannes Hausmann, Andrea Brovelli, and Demian Battaglia.
2024.   —  @HAL

It is challenging to measure how specific aspects of coordinated neural dynamics translate into operations of information processing and, ultimately, cognitive functions. An obstacle is that simple circuit mechanisms—such as self-sustained or propagating activity and nonlinear summation of inputs—do not directly give rise to high-level functions. Nevertheless, they already implement simple the information carried by neural activity. Here, we propose that distinct functions, such as stimulus representation, working memory, or selective attention, stem from different combinations and types of low-level manipulations of information or information processing primitives. To test this hypothesis, we combine approaches from information theory with simulations of multi-scale neural circuits involving interacting brain regions that emulate well-defined cognitive functions. Specifically, we track the information dynamics emergent from patterns of neural dynamics, using quantitative metrics to detect where and when information is actively buffered, transferred or nonlinearly merged, as possible modes of low-level processing (storage, transfer and modification). We find that neuronal subsets maintaining representations in working memory or performing attentional gain modulation are signaled by their boosted involvement in operations of information storage or modification, respectively. Thus, information dynamic metrics, beyond detecting which network units participate in cognitive processing, also promise to specify how and when they do it, that is, through which type of primitive computation, a capability that may be exploited for the analysis of experimental recordings.

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