Research Topic

Biophysically based Computational Models of Astrocyte ~ Neuron Coupling and their Functional Significance

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Neuroscientists are increasingly becoming more interested in modelling brain functions where capturing the biophysical mechanisms underpinning these functions requires plausible models at the level of neuron cells. However, cell level models are still very much in the embryo stage and therefore there is a ...

Neuroscientists are increasingly becoming more interested in modelling brain functions where capturing the biophysical mechanisms underpinning these functions requires plausible models at the level of neuron cells. However, cell level models are still very much in the embryo stage and therefore there is a need to advance the level of biological realism at the level of neurons/synapses. Recent publications have highlighted that astrocytes continually exchange information with multiple synapses; if we are to fully appreciate this dynamic and coordinated interplay between these cells then more research on bidirectional signalling between astrocytes and neurons is required. A better understanding of astrocyte-neuron cell coupling would provide the building block for studying the regulatory capability of astrocytes networks on a large scale. For example, it is believed that local and global signalling via astrocytes underpins brain functions like synchrony, learning, memory and self repair.

Suggested Topics: This special topic aims to report on current research work which focuses on understanding and modelling the interaction between astrocytes and neurons at the cellular level (Bottom up) and at network level (Top down). Understanding astrocytic regulation of neural activity is crucial if we are to capture how information is represented and processed across large neuronal ensembles in humans. We are interested in, but not limited to, contributions from authors in the following key areas:

• Bi-directional signalling: The coupling of astrocytes and neurons results in an intimate connection that facilitates chemical communication with the tripartite synapse. Because astrocytes express the same neurotransmitter receptors as neurons there is an intracellular coupling with a local synapse which initiates a feedback signal with neighbouring neurons. This communication is believed to play key roles in many brain functions including learning. However, models which capture this intercellular communications are still very much in the embryo stage.

• Synchrony: Astrocytes are known to be involved in synchronization of neighbouring neurons because synapses are coordinated by signals from a single astrocyte. Since information representation within the brain is believed to be facilitated by dynamic coordination across neuron clusters, it is crucial that models of neuronal synchrony are available to assist in understanding information encoding and subsequent processing.

• Self repair: Recent research has highlighted that retrograde signalling via astrocytes plays a key role in self repair by regulating plasticity through the modulation of synaptic transmission probability at remote synaptic sites. This regulatory capability occurs because astrocytes are positioned to provide information transfer between neighbouring neurons. From a computer science perspective, understanding and modelling this capability will seed a completely new approach to fault tolerant computing, providing the blue print for a radically advanced roadmap to self-repairing computational platforms.

In general, we are interested in dynamic models of the interplay between astrocyte-neuron and the use of such models to capture the functional and anatomical connections between regions in the brain.


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