Computational Learning and Memory Group

Editorial overview: Computational neuroscience
Current Opinion in Neurobiology (2019)
B Doiron, and M Lengyel


Computational neuroscience is coming of age. In the not-so-distant past, data sets were small and painted a very incomplete picture of neuronal activity. This forced theoreticians to build models that were limited in scope, and often difficult to merge with theory being built from other small data sets. Computational neuroscience was happening on isolated islands across our community. We now live in an era where massive data sets are routinely collected, which often cross many spatial and temporal scales and combine both physiology and behaviour. Because of this, theoreticians now have the licence (and necessity) to think more broadly, aiming for models that capture neural activity over many scales, including behavior. In parallel, a more mature theoretical community has built solid social networks (through conferences such as the Computational Neuroscience, Computational and Systems Neuroscience, and Cognitive Computational Neuroscience conferences) that encourage a vibrant discussion across modelling traditions. All of this happens with an ever-increasing understanding of the role of computation from experimentalists (thanks, in large part, to summer courses co-training experimentalists with theoreticians, such as the Woods Hole or CAJAL courses), significantly enriching the discussion. This new world has not only deepened the computational neuroscience happening on the islands but perhaps more importantly has built bridges between them. This expansive theoretical landscape that includes expertise across mathematical and statistical communities is essential for any hope of using theory to help organize the data coming from our much bigger windows into brain activity.

This issue of Current Opinion of Neurobiology is devoted to giving a flavor of computational neuroscience being done in our time. To guide the reader we first grouped the various reviews into ones that summarize work being done on an island as well as ones describing the bridges that are being built between islands. This grouping is by no means unique and is bound to reflect the tastes of us as editors. All of the contributions have the spirit of a broad theory that attempts to encompass rich and varied neuroscience questions. We hope that these reviews inspire more bridges which will link even bigger islands.