Sustained activity in hierarchical modular neural networks: Self-organized criticality and oscillations

Sheng Jun Wang, Claus C. Hilgetag, Changsong ZHOU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


Cerebral cortical brain networks possess a number of conspicuous features of structure and dynamics. First, these networks have an intricate, non-random organization. In particular, they are structured in a hierarchical modular fashion, from large-scale regions of the whole brain, via cortical areas and area subcompartments organized as structural and functional maps to cortical columns, and finally circuits made up of individual neurons. Second, the networks display self-organized sustained activity, which is persistent in the absence of external stimuli. At the systems level, such activity is characterized by complex rhythmical oscillations over a broadband background, while at the cellular level, neuronal discharges have been observed to display avalanches, indicating that cortical networks are at the state of self-organized criticality (SOC). We explored the relationship between hierarchical neural network organization and sustained dynamics using large-scale network modeling. Previously, it was shown that sparse random networks with balanced excitation and inhibition can sustain neural activity without external stimulation. We found that a hierarchical modular architecture can generate sustained activity better than random networks. Moreover, the system can simultaneously support rhythmical oscillations and SOC, which are not present in the respective random networks. The mechanism underlying the sustained activity is that each dense module cannot sustain activity on its own, but displays SOC in the presence of weak perturbations. Therefore, the hierarchical modular networks provide the coupling among subsystems with SOC. These results imply that the hierarchical modular architecture of cortical networks plays an important role in shaping the ongoing spontaneous activity of the brain, potentially allowing the system to take advantage of both the sensitivity of critical states and the predictability and timing of oscillations for efficient information processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
JournalFrontiers in Computational Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2011

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • Balanced networks
  • Hierarchical modular networks
  • Neural avalanche
  • Self-organized criticality
  • Slow oscillations
  • Sustained activity


Dive into the research topics of 'Sustained activity in hierarchical modular neural networks: Self-organized criticality and oscillations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this