Topographica: building and analyzing map-level simulations from Python, C/C++, MATLAB, NEST, or NEURON components

James A Bednar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many neural regions are arranged into two-dimensional topographic maps, such as the retinotopic maps in mammalian visual cortex. Computational simulations have led to valuable insights about how cortical topography develops and functions, but further progress has been hindered by the lack of appropriate tools. It has been particularly difficult to bridge across levels of detail, because simulators are typically geared to a specific level, while interfacing between simulators has been a major technical challenge. In this paper, we show that the Python-based Topographica simulator makes it straightforward to build systems that cross levels of analysis, as well as providing a common framework for evaluating and comparing models implemented in other simulators. These results rely on the general-purpose abstractions around which Topographica is designed, along with the Python interfaces becoming available for many simulators. In particular, we present a detailed, general-purpose example of how to wrap an external spiking PyNN/NEST simulation as a Topographica component using only a dozen lines of Python code, making it possible to use any of the extensive input presentation, analysis, and plotting tools of Topographica. Additional examples show how to interface easily with models in other types of simulators. Researchers simulating topographic maps externally should consider using Topographica's analysis tools (such as preference map, receptive field, or tuning curve measurement) to compare results consistently, and for connecting models at different levels. This seamless interoperability will help neuroscientists and computational scientists to work together to understand how neurons in topographic maps organize and operate.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Neuroinformatics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Python
  • simulators
  • interoperability
  • interfacing
  • topographic maps
  • large-scale
  • cortex
  • visual


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