Astrocytes mediate analogous memory in a multi-layer neuron-astrocytic network

Modeling the neuronal processes underlying short-term working memory remains the focus of many theoretical studies in neuroscience. Here we propose a mathematical model of spiking neuron network (SNN) demonstrating how a piece of information can be maintained as a robust activity pattern for several seconds then completely disappear if no other stimuli come. Such short-term memory traces are preserved due to the activation of astrocytes accompanying the SNN. The astrocytes exhibit calcium transients at a time scale of seconds. These transients further modulate the efficiency of synaptic transmission and, hence, the firing rate of neighboring neurons at diverse timescales through gliotransmitter release. We show how such transients continuously encode frequencies of neuronal discharges and provide robust short-term storage of analogous information. This kind of short-term memory can keep operative information for seconds, then completely forget it to avoid overlapping with forthcoming patterns. The SNN is inter-connected with the astrocytic layer by local inter-cellular diffusive connections. The astrocytes are activated only when the neighboring neurons fire quite synchronously, e.g. when an information pattern is loaded. For illustration, we took greyscale photos of people's faces where the grey level encoded the level of applied current stimulating the neurons. The astrocyte feedback modulates (facilitates) synaptic transmission by varying the frequency of neuronal firing. We show how arbitrary patterns can be loaded, then stored for a certain interval of time, and retrieved if the appropriate clue pattern is applied to the input.

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