Research Topic

Scale-free Dynamics and Critical Phenomena in Cortical Activity

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The brain is composed of many interconnected neurons that form a complex system, from which thought, behavior, and creativity emerge through self-organization. By studying the dynamics of this network, some basic motifs can be identified. Recent technological and computational advances have led to rapidly ...

The brain is composed of many interconnected neurons that form a complex system, from which thought, behavior, and creativity emerge through self-organization. By studying the dynamics of this network, some basic motifs can be identified. Recent technological and computational advances have led to rapidly accumulating empirical evidence that spontaneous cortical activity exhibits scale-free and critical behavior. Multiple experiments have identified neural processes without a preferred timescale in the avalanche-like spatial propagation of activity in cortical slices and in self-similar time series of local field potentials. Even at the largest scale, scale-free behavior can be observed by looking at the power distributions of brain rhythms as observed by neuroimaging. These findings may indicate that brain dynamics are always close to critical states – a fact with important consequences for how brain accomplishes information transfer and processing. Capitalizing on analogies between the collective behavior of interacting particles in complex physical systems and interacting neurons in the cortex, concepts from non-equilibrium thermodynamics can help to understand how dynamics are organized. In particular, the concepts of phase transitions and self-organized criticality can be used to shed new light on how to interpret collective neuronal dynamics. Despite converging support for scale‐free and critical dynamics in cortical activity, the implications for accompanying cognitive functions are still largely unclear. This Research Topic aims to facilitate the discussion between scientists from different backgrounds, ranging from theoretical physics, to computational neuroscience, brain imaging and neurophysiology. By stimulating interactions with the readers of Frontiers in Physiology, we hope to advance our understanding of the role of scale-freeness and criticality in organizing brain dynamics. What do these new perspectives tell us about the brain and to what extent are they relevant for our cognitive functioning?

For this Research Topic, we therefore solicit reviews, original research articles, opinion and method papers, which address the principles that organize the dynamics of cortical activity. While focusing on work in the neurosciences, this Research Topic also welcomes theoretical contributions from physics or computational approaches.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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