Hopf Bifurcation in Mean Field Explains Critical Avalanches in Excitation-Inhibition Balanced Neuronal Networks: A Mechanism for Multiscale Variability

Junhao Liang, Tianshou Zhou, Changsong Zhou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Cortical neural circuits display highly irregular spiking in individual neurons but variably sized collective firing, oscillations and critical avalanches at the population level, all of which have functional importance for information processing. Theoretically, the balance of excitation and inhibition inputs is thought to account for spiking irregularity and critical avalanches may originate from an underlying phase transition. However, the theoretical reconciliation of these multilevel dynamic aspects in neural circuits remains an open question. Herein, we study excitation-inhibition (E-I) balanced neuronal network with biologically realistic synaptic kinetics. It can maintain irregular spiking dynamics with different levels of synchrony and critical avalanches emerge near the synchronous transition point. We propose a novel semi-analytical mean-field theory to derive the field equations governing the network macroscopic dynamics. It reveals that the E-I balanced state of the network manifesting irregular individual spiking is characterized by a macroscopic stable state, which can be either a fixed point or a periodic motion and the transition is predicted by a Hopf bifurcation in the macroscopic field. Furthermore, by analyzing public data, we find the coexistence of irregular spiking and critical avalanches in the spontaneous spiking activities of mouse cortical slice in vitro, indicating the universality of the observed phenomena. Our theory unveils the mechanism that permits complex neural activities in different spatiotemporal scales to coexist and elucidates a possible origin of the criticality of neural systems. It also provides a novel tool for analyzing the macroscopic dynamics of E-I balanced networks and its relationship to the microscopic counterparts, which can be useful for large-scale modeling and computation of cortical dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number580011
Number of pages19
JournalFrontiers in Systems Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • cortical dynamics
  • criticality
  • excitation-inhibition balance
  • mean-field theory
  • neuronal avalanches


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