Enhancement of neural representation capacity by modular architecture in networks of cortical neurons


O. Levy, as above.
E-mail: ofril@tx.technion.ac.il


Biological networks are ubiquitously modular, a feature that is believed to be essential for the enhancement of their functional capacities. Here, we have used a simple modular in vitro design to examine the possibility that modularity enhances network functionality in the context of input representation. We cultured networks of cortical neurons obtained from newborn rats in vitro on substrate-integrated multi-electrode arrays, forcing the network to develop two well-defined modules of neural populations that are coupled by a narrow canal. We measured the neural activity, and examined the capacity of each module to individually classify (i.e. represent) spatially distinct electrical stimuli and propagate input-specific activity features to their downstream coupled counterpart. We show that, although each of the coupled modules maintains its autonomous functionality, a significant enhancement of representational capacity is achieved when the system is observed as a whole. We interpret our results in terms of a relative decorrelation effect imposed by weak coupling between modules.