Noise-Induced Precursors of State Transitions in the Stochastic Wilson–Cowan Model

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The Wilson–Cowan neural field equations describe the dynamical behavior of a 1-D continuum of excitatory and inhibitory cortical neural aggregates, using a pair of coupled integro-differential equations. Here we use bifurcation theory and small-noise linear stochastics to study the range of a phase transitions—sudden qualitative changes in the state of a dynamical system emerging from a bifurcation—accessible to the Wilson–Cowan network. Specifically, we examine saddle-node, Hopf, Turing, and Turing–Hopf instabilities. We introduce stochasticity by adding small-amplitude spatio-temporal white noise, and analyze the resulting subthreshold fluctuations using an Ornstein–Uhlenbeck linearization. This analysis predicts divergent changes in correlation and spectral characteristics of neural activity during close approach to bifurcation from below. We validate these theoretical predictions using numerical simulations. The results demonstrate the role of noise in the emergence of critically slowed precursors in both space and time, and suggest that these early-warning signals are a universal feature of a neural system close to bifurcation. In particular, these precursor signals are likely to have neurobiological significance as early warnings of impending state change in the cortex. We support this claim with an analysis of the in vitro local field potentials recorded from slices of mouse-brain tissue. We show that in the period leading up to emergence of spontaneous seizure-like events, the mouse field potentials show a characteristic spectral focusing toward lower frequencies concomitant with a growth in fluctuation variance, consistent with critical slowing near a bifurcation point. This observation of biological criticality has clear implications regarding the feasibility of seizure prediction.




Negahbani, E., Steyn-Ross, D. A., Steyn-Ross, M. L., Wilson, M. T., & Sleigh, J. W. (2015). Noise-Induced Precursors of State Transitions in the Stochastic Wilson–Cowan Model. Journal of Mathematical Neuroscience, 5(1), 1–27.

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