Myelin dystrophy in the aging prefrontal cortex leads to impaired signal transmission and working memory decline: a multiscale computational study

  1. Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, Boston, MA USA 02118
  2. Centre de Recerca Matemàtica, Edifici C, Campus Bellaterra, 08193 Bellaterra, Spain
  3. Department of Mathematics, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, USA 17604


  • Reviewing Editor
    Srdjan Ostojic
    École Normale Supérieure - PSL, Paris, France
  • Senior Editor
    Joshua Gold
    University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States of America

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

Summary: The authors study the effects of myelin alterations in working memory via the complementary use of two computational approaches: one based on the de- and re-myelination in multicompartmental models of pyramidal neurons, and one based on synaptic changes in a spiking bump attractor model for spatial working memory. The first model provides the most precise angle (biophysically speaking) of the different effects (loss of myelin lamella or segments, remyelination with thinner and shorter nodes, etc), while the second model allows to infer the consequences of myelin alterations in working memory performance, including memory stability, duration, and bump diffusion. The results indicate (i) a slowing down and failure of propagation of spikes with demyelination and partial recovery with remyelination, with detailed predictions on the role of nodes and myelina lamella, and (ii) a decrease in memory duration and an increase in memory drift as a function of the demyelination, in agreement with multiple experimental studies.

Strengths: Overall, the work offers a very interesting approach of a topic which is hard to accomplish experimentally --therefore the computational take is entirely justified and extremely useful. The authors carefully designed the computational experiments to shed light into the demyelination effects on working memory from multiple levels of description, increasing the reliability of their conclusions. I think this work is solid and has the potential to be influential in future studies of myelin alterations (and related disorders such as multiple sclerosis).

Weaknesses: In its current form, the study still presents several issues which prevent it from achieving a higher potential impact. These can be summarized in two main items. First, the manuscript is missing some important details about how demyelination and remyelination are incorporated in both models (and what is the connection between both implementations). For example, it is unclear whether an unperturbed axon and a fully remyelinated axon would be mathematically equivalent in the multicompartment model, or how the changes in the number of nodes, myelin lamella, etc, are implemented in the spiking neural network model. Second, it is unclear whether some of the conclusions are strong computational predictions or just a consequence of the model chosen. For example, the lack of effect of decreasing the conduction velocity on working memory performance could be due to the choice of considering a certain type of working memory model (continuous attractor), and therefore be absent under other valid assumptions (i.e. a silent working memory model, which has a higher dependence on temporal synaptic dynamics).

With additional simulations to address these issues, I consider that the present study would become a convincing milestone in the computational modeling of myelin-related models, and an important study in the field of working memory.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

This paper analyzes the effect of axon de-myelination and re-myelination on action potential speed, and propagation failure. Next, the findings are then incorporated in a standard spiking ring attractor model of working memory.

I think the results are not very surprising or solid and there are issues with method and presentation.
The authors did many simulations with random parameters, then averaged the result, and found for instance that the Conduction Velocity drops in demyelination. It gives the reader little insight into what is really going on. My personal preference is for a well understood simple model rather than a poorly understood complex model. The link between the model outcome of WM and data remains qualitative, and is further weakened by the existence of known other age-related effects in PFC circuits.

* Both for the de/re myelination the spatial patterns are fully random. Why is this justified?
* Similarly, to model the myelin parameters where drawn from uniform distributions, Table 1 (I guess). Again, why is this reasonable?

* The focus of most analysis is on the conduction velocity but in the end, this has no effect on WM, so the discussion of CV remains sterile.

* The more important effect of de/re myelination is on failure.
However, the failure is, AFAIK, just characterized by a constant current injection of 380pA.
From Fig 2 it seems however that the first spike is particularly susceptible to failure.
In other words, it has not been justified that it is fine to use the failure rates from this artificial protocol in the I&F model. I would expect the temporal current trace to affect whether the propagation fails or not.
I don't know if there are many axon-collaterals in the WM circuits and or distance dependence in the connectivity, but if so, then the current implementation of failure would be questionable.
I would also advise against thresholding at 75% failure in Fig3C. Why don't the authors not simply plot the failure rate?

Regarding the presentation, there are a number of dead-end results that are not used further on. The paper is rather extensive, and it would be clearer if written up in half the space. In addition, much information is really supplementary. The issue of the CV I already mentioned, also the Lasso regression for instance remains unused.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation