David G. Barrett, Sophie Denève, Christian K. Machens
How are firing rates in a spiking network related to neural input, connectivity and network function? This is an important problem because firing rates are one of the most important measures of network activity, in both the study of neural computation and neural network dynamics. However, it is a difficult problem, because the spiking mechanism of individual neurons is highly non-linear, and these individual neurons interact strongly through connectivity. We develop a new technique for calculating firing rates in optimal balanced networks. These are particularly interesting networks because they provide an optimal spike-based signal representation while producing cortex-like spiking activity through a dynamic balance of excitation and inhibition. We can calculate firing rates by treating balanced network dynamics as an algorithm for optimizing signal representation. We identify this algorithm and then calculate firing rates by finding the solution to the algorithm. Our firing rate calculation relates network firing rates directly to network input, connectivity and function. This allows us to explain the function and underlying mechanism of tuning curves in a variety of systems.