Neural Oscillation - Mathematical Description

Mathematical Description

See also: Computational neuroscience

Oscillations can often be described and analyzed using mathematics. Mathematicians have identified several dynamical mechanisms that generate rhythmicity. Among the most important are harmonic (linear) oscillators, limit cycle oscillators, and delayed-feedback oscillators. Harmonic oscillations appear very frequently in nature—examples are sound waves, the motion of a pendulum, and vibrations of every sort. They generally arise when a physical system is perturbed by a small degree from a minimum-energy state, and are well-understood mathematically. Noise-driven harmonic oscillators realistically simulate alpha rhythm in the waking EEG as well as slow waves and spindles in the sleep EEG. Successful EEG analysis algorithms were based on such models. Several other EEG components are better described by limit-cycle or delayed-feedback oscillations. Limit-cycle oscillations arise from physical systems that show large deviations from equilibrium, whereas delayed-feedback oscillations arise when components of a system affect each other after significant time delays. Limit-cycle oscillations can be complex but there are powerful mathematical tools for analyzing them; the mathematics of delayed-feedback oscillations is primitive in comparison. Linear oscillators and limit-cycle oscillators qualitatively differ in terms of how they respond to fluctuations in input. In a linear oscillator, the frequency is more or less constant but the amplitude can vary greatly. In a limit-cycle oscillator, the amplitude tends to be more or less constant but the frequency can vary greatly. A heartbeat is an example of a limit-cycle oscillation in that the frequency of beats varies widely, while each individual beat continues to pump about the same amount of blood.

Computational models adopt a variety of abstractions in order to describe complex oscillatory dynamics observed in brain activity. Many models are used in the field, each defined at a different level of abstraction and trying to model different aspects of neural systems. They range from models of the short-term behaviour of individual neurons, through models of how the dynamics of neural circuitry arise from interactions between individual neurons, to models of how behaviour can arise from abstract neural modules that represent complete subsystems.

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