Introducing the Human Neocortical Neurosolver

A new open-source software tool enables users to translate human EEG/MEG recordings into circuit-level neural activity, without requiring expertise in computer programming.

Image credit: Public domain

Neurons carry information in the form of electrical signals. Each of these signals is too weak to detect on its own. But the combined signals from large groups of neurons can be detected using techniques called EEG and MEG. Sensors on or near the scalp detect changes in the electrical activity of groups of neurons from one millisecond to the next. These recordings can also reveal changes in brain activity due to disease.

But how do EEG/MEG signals relate to the activity of neural circuits? While neuroscientists can rarely record electrical activity from inside the human brain, it is much easier to do so in other animals. Computer models can then compare these recordings from animals to the signals in human EEG/MEG to infer how the activity of neural circuits is changing. But building and interpreting these models requires advanced skills in mathematics and programming, which not all researchers possess.

Neymotin et al. have therefore developed a user-friendly software platform that can help translate human EEG/MEG recordings into circuit-level activity. Known as the Human Neocortical Neurosolver, or HNN for short, the open-source tool enables users to develop and test hypotheses on the neural origin of EEG/MEG signals. The model simulates the electrical activity of cells in the outer layers of the human brain, the neocortex. By feeding human EEG/MEG data into the model, researchers can predict patterns of circuit-level activity that might have given rise to the EEG/MEG data. The HNN software includes tutorials and example datasets for commonly measured signals, including brain rhythms. It is free to use and can be installed on all major computer platforms or run online.

HNN will help researchers and clinicians who wish to identify the neural origins of EEG/MEG signals in the healthy or diseased brain. Likewise, it will be useful to researchers studying brain activity in animals, who want to know how their findings might relate to human EEG/MEG signals. As HNN is suitable for users without training in computational neuroscience, it offers an accessible tool for discoveries in translational neuroscience.