Dynamic network communication as a unifying neural basis for cognition, development, aging, and disease

Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Jun 15;77(12):1089-97. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.04.016. Epub 2015 Apr 28.


Perception, cognition, and social interaction depend upon coordinated neural activity. This coordination operates within noisy, overlapping, and distributed neural networks operating at multiple timescales. These networks are built upon a structural scaffolding with intrinsic neuroplasticity that changes with development, aging, disease, and personal experience. In this article, we begin from the perspective that successful interregional communication relies upon the transient synchronization between distinct low-frequency (<80 Hz) oscillations, allowing for brief windows of communication via phase-coordinated local neuronal spiking. From this, we construct a theoretical framework for dynamic network communication, arguing that these networks reflect a balance between oscillatory coupling and local population spiking activity and that these two levels of activity interact. We theorize that when oscillatory coupling is too strong, spike timing within the local neuronal population becomes too synchronous; when oscillatory coupling is too weak, spike timing is too disorganized. Each results in specific disruptions to neural communication. These alterations in communication dynamics may underlie cognitive changes associated with healthy development and aging, in addition to neurological and psychiatric disorders. A number of neurological and psychiatric disorders-including Parkinson's disease, autism, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety-are associated with abnormalities in oscillatory activity. Although aging, psychiatric and neurological disease, and experience differ in the biological changes to structural gray or white matter, neurotransmission, and gene expression, our framework suggests that any resultant cognitive and behavioral changes in normal or disordered states or their treatment are a product of how these physical processes affect dynamic network communication.

Keywords: Anxiety; Autism; Coherence; Coupling; Depression; Gamma; Network dynamics; Neural oscillations; Parkinson’s disease; Schizophrenia; Theta.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Brain Waves*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cortical Synchronization
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology