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Optimal control of a Wilson–Cowan model of neural population dynamics

Salfenmoser, Lena; Obermayer, Klaus

Nonlinear dynamical systems describe neural activity at various scales and are frequently used to study brain functions and the impact of external perturbations. Here, we explore methods from optimal control theory (OCT) to study efficient, stimulating “control” signals designed to make the neural activity match desired targets. Efficiency is quantified by a cost functional, which trades control strength against closeness to the target activity. Pontryagin’s principle then enables to compute the cost-minimizing control signal. We then apply OCT to a Wilson–Cowan model of coupled excitatory and inhibitory neural populations. The model exhibits an oscillatory regime, low- and high-activity fixed points, and a bistable regime where low- and high-activity states coexist. We compute an optimal control for a state-switching (bistable regime) and a phase-shifting task (oscillatory regime) and allow for a finite transition period before penalizing the deviation from the target state. For the state-switching task, pulses of limited input strength push the activity minimally into the target basin of attraction. Pulse shapes do not change qualitatively when varying the duration of the transition period. For the phase-shifting task, periodic control signals cover the whole transition period. Amplitudes decrease when transition periods are extended, and their shapes are related to the phase sensitivity profile of the model to pulsed perturbations. Penalizing control strength via the integrated 1-norm yields control inputs targeting only one population for both tasks. Whether control inputs drive the excitatory or inhibitory population depends on the state-space location.
Published in: Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, 10.1063/5.0144682, American Institute of Physics