Emergent decision-making behaviour and rhythm generation in a computational model of the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus

Duncan MacGregor, Gareth Leng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMN) has an important role in diverse behaviours. The common involvement in these of sex steroids, nutritionally-related signals, and emotional inputs from other brain areas, suggests that, at any given time, its output is in one of a discrete number of possible states corresponding to discrete motivational drives. Here we explored how networks of VMN neurons might generate such a decision-making architecture. We began with minimalist assumptions about the intrinsic properties of VMN neurons inferred from electrophysiological recordings of these neurons in rats in vivo, using an integrate-and-fire based model modified to simulate activity-dependent post-spike changes in neuronal excitability. We used a genetic algorithm based method to fit model parameters to the statistical features of spike patterning in each cell. The spike patterns in both recorded cells and model cells were assessed by analysis of interspike interval distributions and of the index of dispersion of firing rate over different binwidths. Simpler patterned cells could be closely matched by single neuron models incorporating a hyperpolarising afterpotential and either a slow afterhyperpolarisation or a depolarising afterpotential, but many others could not. We then constructed network models with the challenge of explaining the more complex patterns. We assumed that neurons of a given type (with heterogeneity introduced by independently random patterns of external input) were mutually interconnected at random by excitatory synaptic connections (with a variable delay and a random chance of failure). Simple network models of one or two cell types were able to explain the more complex patterns. We then explored the information processing features of such networks that might be relevant for a decision-making network. We concluded that rhythm generation (in the slow theta range) and bistability arise as emergent properties of networks of heterogeneous VMN neurons.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1007092
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number6
Early online dateJun 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jun 2019


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