Wulfram Gerstner, Richard Naud
Opinions strongly diverge on what constitutes a good model of a neuron. Two lines of thought on this have coexisted for a long time: detailed biophysical models (of the style proposed in 1952 by the physiologists Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley) that describe ion channels on the tree-like spatial structure of the neuronal cell, and simple "integrate-and-fire" models based on the much older insight that pulsatile electrical activity (known as an action potential or spike) is a threshold process. Electrophysiologists generally prefer the biophysical models, familiar with the notion of ion channels that open and close (and hence, alter neuronal activity) depending on environmental conditions. Theoreticians, by contrast, typically prefer simple neuron models with few parameters that are amenable to mathematical analysis. Earlier this year, following previous attempts at model comparison on a smaller scale, the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF) launched an international competition that allowed a quantitative comparison of neuron models.