October 9, 2015

A major proof of concept for brain simulation

(October 9, 2015)  An international team led by EPFL scientists have completed a first draft computer reconstruction of a piece of the neocortex. The electrical behavior of the virtual brain tissue was simulated on supercomputers and found to match the behavior observed in a number of experiments on the brain. Further simulations revealed novel insights into the functioning of the neocortex. This first step towards the digital reconstruction and simulation of the brain is published in Cell.

Today, the Blue Brain Project, the simulation core of the Human Brain Project, released a draft digital reconstruction of the neocortical microcircuitry of the rat brain. – a detailed computer representation of about a third of a cubic millimetre of brain tissue containing about 30,000 neurons connected by nearly 40 million synapses. Simulating the emergent electrical behavior of this virtual tissue on supercomputers reproduced a range of previous observations made in experiments on the brain, validating its biological accuracy and providing new insights into the functioning of the neocortex. The project has published the full set of experimental data and the digital reconstruction, in a public web portal, allowing researchers around the world to use them (https://bbp.epfl.ch/nmc-portal).

The paper describing the digital reconstruction is published by the renowned journal Cell (ref), acclaimed for publishing only the most important biological discoveries. The reconstruction represents the culmination of 20 years of biological experimentation that generated the core dataset, and 10 years of computational science work that developed the algorithms and built the software ecosystem required to digitally reconstruct and simulate the tissue.

The study is the result of a massive effort by 82 scientists and engineers at EPFL and at institutions in Israel, Spain, Hungary, USA, China, Sweden, and the UK. The publication represents a major milestone for the EPFL scientists. “They delivered what they promised.”, says Patrick Aebischer, president of EPFL who together with the Swiss government took the bold step of funding the ambitious and controversial Blue Brain Project. While a long way from the whole brain, the study demonstrates that it is feasible to digitally reconstruct and simulate brain tissue. It is a first step and a significant contribution to Europe’s Human Brain Project, which Henry Markram founded, and where EPFL is the coordinating partner.

journal reference >>