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Nonsmooth dynamics in spiking neuron models

Coombes, Stephen; Thul, Ruediger; Wedgwood, Kyle C.A.


Kyle C.A. Wedgwood


Large scale studies of spiking neural networks are a key part of modern approaches to understanding the dynamics of biological neural tissue. One approach in computational neuroscience has been to consider the detailed electrophysiological properties of neurons and build vast computational compartmental models. An alternative has been to develop minimal models of spiking neurons with a reduction in the dimensionality of both parameter and variable space that facilitates more effective simulation studies. In this latter case the single neuron model of choice is often a variant of the classic integrate-and-fire model, which is described by a nonsmooth dynamical system. In this paper we review some of the more popular spiking models of this class and describe the types of spiking pattern that they can generate (ranging from tonic to burst firing). We show that a number of techniques originally developed for the study of impact oscillators are directly relevant to their analysis, particularly those for treating grazing bifurcations. Importantly we highlight one particular single neuron model, capable of generating realistic spike trains, that is both computationally cheap and analytically tractable. This is a planar nonlinear integrate-and-fire model with a piecewise linear vector field and a state dependent reset upon spiking. We call this the PWL-IF model and analyse it at both the single neuron and network level. The techniques and terminology of nonsmooth dynamical systems are used to flesh out the bifurcation structure of the single neuron model, as well as to develop the notion of Liapunov exponents. We also show how to construct the phase response curve for this system, emphasising that techniques in mathematical neuroscience may also translate back to the field of nonsmooth dynamical systems. The stability of periodic spiking orbits is assessed using a linear stability analysis of spiking times. At the network level we consider linear coupling between voltage variables, as would occur in neurobiological networks with gap-junction coupling, and show how to analyse the properties (existence and stability) of both the asynchronous and synchronous states. In the former case we use a phase-density technique that is valid for any large system of globally coupled limit cycle oscillators, whilst in the latter we develop a novel technique that can handle the nonsmooth reset of the model upon spiking. Finally we discuss other aspects of neuroscience modelling that may benefit from further translation of ideas from the growing body of knowledge on nonsmooth dynamics.


Coombes, S., Thul, R., & Wedgwood, K. C. (2012). Nonsmooth dynamics in spiking neuron models. Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, 241(22),

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date May 13, 2011
Publication Date Nov 15, 2012
Deposit Date Aug 15, 2011
Publicly Available Date Aug 15, 2011
Journal Physica D
Print ISSN 0167-2789
Electronic ISSN 0167-2789
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 241
Issue 22
Keywords Integrate-and-fire, Spiking neuron model, Nonsmooth bifurcation, Linear-coupling
Public URL
Publisher URL
Copyright Statement Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address:


Spiking neuron final version.pdf (1.5 Mb)

Copyright Statement
Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address:

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