I Foundations of Neuronal Dynamics

Chapter 1 Introduction: Neurons and Mathematics

The primary aim of this chapter is to introduce several elementary notions of neuroscience, in particular the concepts of action potentials, postsynaptic potentials, firing thresholds, refractoriness, and adaptation. Based on these notions a preliminary model of neuronal dynamics is built and this simple model (the leaky integrate-and-fire model) will be used as a starting point and reference for the generalized integrate-and-fire models, which are the main topic of the book, to be discussed in Parts II and III. Since the mathematics used for the simple model is essentially that of a one-dimensional linear differential equation, we take this first chapter as an opportunity to introduce some of the mathematical notation that will be used throughout the rest of the book.

Due to the limitations of space we cannot – and do not want to – give a comprehensive introduction into such a complex field as neurobiology. The presentation of the biological background in this chapter is therefore highly selective and focuses on those aspects needed to appreciate the biological background of the theoretical work presented in this book. For an in-depth discussion of neurobiology we refer the reader to the literature mentioned at the end of this chapter.

After the review of neuronal properties in Section 1.1 and 1.2 we will turn, in Section 1.3, to our first mathematical neuron model. The last two sections are devoted to a discussion of the strengths and limitations of simplified models.