Dynamics Introduction

@Chaoming Wang

What I cannot create, I do not understand. — Richard Feynman

Brain is a complex dynamical system. In order to simulate it, we provide brainpy.DynamicalSystem. brainpy.DynamicalSystem can be used to define any brain objects which have dynamics. Various children classes are implemented to model these brain elements, such like: brainpy.Channel for neuron channels, brainpy.NeuGroup for neuron groups, brainpy.TwoEndConn for synaptic connections, brainpy.Network for networks, etc. Arbitrary composition of these objects is also an instance of brainpy.DynamicalSystem. Therefore, brainpy.DynamicalSystem is the universal language to define dynamical models in BrainPy.

import brainpy as bp
import brainpy.math as bm


In this section, let’s try to understand the mechanism and the function of brainpy.DynamicalSystem.

What is DynamicalSystem?

First, what can be defined as DynamicalSystem?

Intuitively, a dynamical system is a system which has the time-dependent state.

Mathematically, it can be expressed as

\[ \dot{X} = f(X, t) \]

where \(X\) is the state of the system, \(t\) is the time, and \(f\) is a function describes the time dependence of the system state.

Alternatively, the evolution of the system along the time can be given by

\[ X(t+dt) = F\left(X(t), t, dt\right) \]

where \(dt\) is the time step, and \(F\) is the evolution rule to update the system’s state.

Accordingly, in BrainPy, any subclass of brainpy.DynamicalSystem must implement this updating rule in the update function (def update(self, _t, _dt)). One dynamical system may have multiple updating rules, therefore, users can define multiple update functions. All updating functions are wrapped into an inner data structure self.steps (a Python dictionary specifies the name and the function of updating rules). Let’s take a look.

class FitzHughNagumoModel(bp.DynamicalSystem):
    def __init__(self, a=0.8, b=0.7, tau=12.5, **kwargs):
        super(FitzHughNagumoModel, self).__init__(**kwargs)
        # parameters
        self.a = a
        self.b = b
        self.tau = tau
        # variables
        self.v = bm.Variable([0.])
        self.w = bm.Variable([0.])
        self.I = bm.Variable([0.])
    def update(self, _t, _dt):
        # _t : the current time, the system keyword 
        # _dt : the time step, the system keyword 
        self.w += (self.v + self.a - self.b * self.w) / self.tau * _dt
        self.v += (self.v - self.v ** 3 / 3 - self.w + self.I) * _dt
        self.I[:] = 0.

Here, we have defined a dynamical system called FitzHugh–Nagumo neuron model, whose dynamics is given by:

\[\begin{split} {\dot {v}}=v-{\frac {v^{3}}{3}}-w+I, \\ \tau {\dot {w}}=v+a-bw. \end{split}\]

By using the Euler method, this system can be updated by the following rule:

\[\begin{split} \begin{aligned} v(t+dt) &= v(t) + [v(t)-{v(t)^{3}/3}-w(t)+RI] * dt, \\ w(t + dt) &= w(t) + [v(t) + a - b w(t)] * dt. \end{aligned} \end{split}\]

We can inspect all update functions in the model by xxx.steps.

fnh = FitzHughNagumoModel()

fnh.steps  # all update functions
{'update': <bound method FitzHughNagumoModel.update of <__main__.FitzHughNagumoModel object at 0x7f7f4c7ceaf0>>}

Why to use DynamicalSystem?

So, why should I define my dynamical system as brainpy.DynamicalSystem?

There are several benefits.

  • brainpy.DynamicalSystem has a systematic naming system.

First, every instance of DynamicalSystem has its unique name.

fnh.name  # name for "fnh" instance
# every instance has its unique name

for _ in range(5):
# the model name can be specified by yourself

fnh2 = FitzHughNagumoModel(name='X')

# same name will cause error

except bp.errors.UniqueNameError as e:
In BrainPy, each object should have a unique name. However, we detect that <__main__.FitzHughNagumoModel object at 0x7f7f4c7f3850> has a used name "X".

Second, variables, children nodes, etc. inside an instance can be easily accessed by the absolute or relative path.

# All variables can be acessed by 
# 1). the absolute path

{'X.I': Variable([0.]), 'X.v': Variable([0.]), 'X.w': Variable([0.])}
# 2). or, the relative path

{'I': Variable([0.]), 'v': Variable([0.]), 'w': Variable([0.])}

If we wrap many instances into a container: brainpy.Network, variables and nodes can also be accessed by absolute or relative path.

fnh_net = bp.Network(f1=fnh, f2=fnh2)
# absolute access of variables

{'FitzHughNagumoModel0.I': Variable([0.]),
 'FitzHughNagumoModel0.v': Variable([0.]),
 'FitzHughNagumoModel0.w': Variable([0.]),
 'X.I': Variable([0.]),
 'X.v': Variable([0.]),
 'X.w': Variable([0.])}
# relative access of variables

{'f1.I': Variable([0.]),
 'f1.v': Variable([0.]),
 'f1.w': Variable([0.]),
 'f2.I': Variable([0.]),
 'f2.v': Variable([0.]),
 'f2.w': Variable([0.])}
# absolute access of nodes

{'FitzHughNagumoModel0': <__main__.FitzHughNagumoModel at 0x7f7f4c7ceaf0>,
 'X': <__main__.FitzHughNagumoModel at 0x7f7f4c7f3700>,
 'Network0': <brainpy.simulation.brainobjects.network.Network at 0x7f7f4c7f3340>}
# relative access of nodes

{'': <brainpy.simulation.brainobjects.network.Network at 0x7f7f4c7f3340>,
 'f1': <__main__.FitzHughNagumoModel at 0x7f7f4c7ceaf0>,
 'f2': <__main__.FitzHughNagumoModel at 0x7f7f4c7f3700>}
  • Automatic monitors. Any instance of brainpy.DynamicalSystem can call .run(duration). During running, a brainpy.Monitor inside the dynamical system (xxx.mon) can be used to automatically monitor the history values of the interested variables. Details please see the tutorial of Monitors and Inputs.

# in "fnh3" instance, we try to monitor "v", "w", and "I" variables
fnh3 = FitzHughNagumoModel(monitors=['v', 'w', 'I'])

# in "fnh4" instance, we only monitor "v" variable
fnh4 = FitzHughNagumoModel(monitors=['v'], name='Y')
  • Convenient input operations. During the model running, users can specify the inputs for each model component, with the format of (target, value, [type, operation]) (the details please see the tutorial of [Monitors and Inputs]).(../tutorial_simulation/monitors_and_inputs.ipynb).

    • The target is the variable accessed by the absolute or relative path. Absolute path access will be very useful in a huge network model.

    • The default input type is “fix”, means the value must be a constant scalar or array over time. “iter” type of input is also allowed, which means the value can be an iterable objects (arrays, or iterable functions, etc.).

    • The default operation is +, which means the input value will be added to the target. Allowed operations include +, -, *, /, and =.

%matplotlib inline

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

         # relative path to access variable 'I'
         inputs=('I', 1.5))

plt.plot(fnh3.mon.ts, fnh3.mon.v, label='v')
plt.plot(fnh3.mon.ts, fnh3.mon.w, label='w')
<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0x7f7f4c761e80>
inputs = bm.linspace(1., 2., 10000)

         inputs=('Y.I',     #  specify 'target' by the absolute path access
                 inputs,    #  specify 'value' with an iterable array
                 'iter'))   #  "iter" input 'type' must be explicitly specified

plt.plot(fnh4.mon.ts, fnh4.mon.v, label='v')
<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0x7f7f4c7f3b80>
def inputs():
    for i in range(10000): 
        yield 1.5

         inputs=('Y.I',     # specify 'target' by the absolute path access
                 inputs(),    # specify 'value' with an iterable function
                 'iter'))   # "iter" input 'type' must be explicitly specified

plt.plot(fnh4.mon.ts, fnh4.mon.v, label='v')
<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0x7f7f4c082d60>
  • brainpy.DynamicalSystem is a subclass of brainpy.Base, therefore, any instance of brainpy.DynamicalSystem can be just-in-time compiled into efficient machine codes targeting on CPUs, GPUs, or TPUs.

fnh3_jit = bm.jit(fnh3)

fnh3_jit.run(duration=100, inputs=('I', 1.5))

plt.plot(fnh3_jit.mon.ts, fnh3_jit.mon.v, label='v')
plt.plot(fnh3_jit.mon.ts, fnh3_jit.mon.w, label='w')
<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0x7f7f2c595b50>
  • brainpy.DynamicalSystem can be combined arbitrarily. Any composed system can also benefit from the above convenient interfaces.

# compose two FitzHughNagumoModel instances into a Network
net2 = bp.Network(f1=fnh3, f2=fnh4, monitors=['f1.v', 'Y.v'])

net2.run(100, inputs=[
    ('f1.I', 1.5), # relative access variable "I" in 'fnh3'
    ('Y.I', 1.0), # absolute access variable "I" in 'fnh4'

plt.plot(net2.mon.ts, net2.mon['f1.v'], label='v1')
plt.plot(net2.mon.ts, net2.mon['Y.v'], label='v2')
<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0x7f7f2c2c6ee0>

In next sections, we will illustrate how to define common brain objects (specifically, the neuron, the synapse and the network) by subclasses of brainpy.DynamicalSystem.


brainpy.NeuGroup is used for neuron group modeling. User-defined neuron group models should inherit from the brainpy.NeuGroup. Let’s take the leaky integrate-and-fire (LIF) model as the illustrated example.

LIF neuron model

The formal equations of a LIF model is given by:

\[\begin{split} \begin{aligned} \tau_m \frac{dV}{dt} = - (V(t) - V_{rest}) + I(t) \quad\quad (1) \\ \text{after} \, V(t) \gt V_{th}, V(t) =V_{rest} \, \text{last} \, \tau_{ref} \, \text{ms} \quad\quad (2) \end{aligned} \end{split}\]

where \(V\) is the membrane potential, \(V_{rest}\) is the rest membrane potential, \(V_{th}\) is the spike threshold, \(\tau_m\) is the time constant, \(\tau_{ref}\) is the refractory time period, and \(I\) is the time-variant synaptic inputs.

The above two equations mean that: when the membrane potential \(V\) is below \(V_{th}\), the model integrates \(V\) with the equation (1); once \(V > V_{th}\), according to equation (2), we will reset the membrane potential to \(V_{rest}\), and the model enters into the refractory period which lasts \(\tau_{ref}\) ms. In the refractory period, the membrane potential \(V\) will no longer change.

Let’s start to code this LIF neuron model. First, we will define the following items to store the neuron state:

  • V: The membrane potential.

  • input: The synaptic input.

  • spike: Whether produce a spike.

  • refractory: Whether the neuron is in the refractory state.

  • t_last_spike: To record the last spike time.

Based on these states, the updating logic of LIF model from the current time \(t\) to the next time \(t+dt\) will be coded as:

class LIF(bp.NeuGroup):
  def __init__(self, size, t_refractory=1., V_rest=0., V_reset=-5.,
               V_th=20., R=1., tau=10., **kwargs):
    super(LIF, self).__init__(size=size, **kwargs)

    # parameters
    self.V_rest = V_rest
    self.V_reset = V_reset
    self.V_th = V_th
    self.R = R
    self.tau = tau
    self.t_refractory = t_refractory

    # variables
    self.V = bm.Variable(bm.random.randn(self.num) * 5. + V_reset)
    self.input = bm.Variable(bm.zeros(self.num))
    self.t_last_spike = bm.Variable(bm.ones(self.num) * -1e7)
    self.refractory = bm.Variable(bm.zeros(self.num, dtype=bool))
    self.spike = bm.Variable(bm.zeros(self.num, dtype=bool))
    # functions
    self.integral = bp.odeint(f=self.derivative, method='exponential_euler')

  def derivative(self, V, t, Iext):
    dvdt = (- (V - self.V_rest) + self.R * Iext) / self.tau
    return dvdt

  def update(self, _t, _dt):
    for i in range(self.num):
      if _t - self.t_last_spike[i] <= self.t_refractory:
        self.refractory[i] = True
        self.spike[i] = False
        V = self.integral(self.V[i], _t, self.input[i])
        if V >= self.V_th:
          self.V[i] = self.V_reset
          self.t_last_spike[i] = _t
          self.spike[i] = True
          self.refractory[i] = True
          self.V[i] = V
          self.spike[i] = False
          self.refractory[i] = False
      self.input[i] = 0.

That’s all, we have coded a LIF neuron model. Note, here we define equation (1) by brainpy.odeint as an ODEIntegrator. We will illustrate how to define ODE numerical integration in the Numerical Solvers for ODEs tutorial.

Each NeuGroup has a powerful function: .run(). In this function, it receives the following arguments:

  • duration: Specify the simulation duration. It can be a tuple with (start time, end time), or a int to specify the duration length (then the default start time is 0).

  • inputs: Specify the inputs for each model component. With the format of (target, value, [type, operation]). Details please see the tutorial of Monitors and Inputs.

  • report: a float to specify the progress percent to report. “0” (default) means doesn’t report running progress.

Now, let’s run the defined model.

group = LIF(100, monitors=['V'])
group.run(duration=200., inputs=('input', 26.), report=0.5)
bp.visualize.line_plot(group.mon.ts, group.mon.V, show=True)
Compilation used 0.0004 s.
Start running ...
Run 50.0% used 3.319 s.
Run 100.0% used 6.479 s.
Simulation is done in 6.480 s.
group.run(duration=(200, 400.), report=0.2)
bp.visualize.line_plot(group.mon.ts, group.mon.V, show=True)
Compilation used 0.0003 s.
Start running ...
Run 20.0% used 1.364 s.
Run 40.0% used 2.711 s.
Run 60.0% used 4.024 s.
Run 80.0% used 5.299 s.
Run 100.0% used 6.589 s.
Simulation is done in 6.590 s.

In the model definition, BrainPy endows you with the fully data/logic flow control. You can define models with any data you need and any logic you want. There are little limitations/constrains on your customization.

  1. you should “super()” initialize the brainpy.NeuGroup with the keyword of the group size.

  2. you should define the update function.


For synaptic computations, BrainPy provides brainpy.TwoEndConn to help you construct the connections between pre-synaptic and post-synaptic neuron groups, and provides brainpy.connect.TwoEndConnector for synaptic projections between pre- and post-synaptic groups.

brainpy.TwoEndConn can help to construct automatic delay in synaptic computations. The modeling of synapses usually includes a delay time (typically 0.3–0.5 ms) required for a neurotransmitter to be released from a presynaptic membrane, diffuse across the synaptic cleft, and bind to a receptor site on the post-synaptic membrane. BrainPy provides register_constant_dely() for automatic state delay.

brainpy.connect.TwoEndConnector provides convenient interface for connectivity structure construction. Various synaptic structures, like pre_ids, post_ids, conn_mat, pre2post, post2pre, pre2syn, post2syn, pre_slice, and post_slice can be constructed. Users just need to require such data structures by calling connector.require('pre_ids', 'post_ids', ...). We will detail this function in Efficient Synaptic Connections.

Here, let’s illustrate how to use brainpy.TwoEndConn with the Exponential synapse model.

Exponential synapse model

Exponential synapse model assumes that once a pre-synaptic neuron generates a spike, the synaptic state arises instantaneously, then decays with a certain time constant \(\tau_{decay}\). Its dynamics is given by:

\[ \frac{d s}{d t} = -\frac{s}{\tau_{decay}}+\sum_{k} \delta(t-D-t^{k}) \]

where \(s\) is the synaptic state, \(t^{k}\) is the spike time of the pre-synaptic neuron, and \(D\) is the synaptic delay.

Afterward, the current output onto the post-synaptic neuron is given in the conductance-based form

\[ I_{syn}(t) = g_{max} s \left( V(t)-E \right) \]

where \(E\) is the reversal potential of the synapse, \(V\) is the post-synaptic membrane potential, \(g_{max}\) is the maximum synaptic conductance.

So, let’s try to implement this synapse model.

class Exponential(bp.TwoEndConn):
  def __init__(self, pre, post, conn, g_max=1., delay=0., tau=8.0, E=0., **kwargs):
    super(Exponential, self).__init__(pre=pre, post=post, conn=conn, **kwargs)

    # parameters
    self.g_max = g_max
    self.E = E
    self.tau = tau
    self.delay = delay

    # connections
    self.pre_ids, self.post_ids = self.conn.requires('pre_ids', 'post_ids')
    self.num = len(self.pre_ids)
    # variables
    self.s = bm.Variable(bm.zeros(self.num))
    self.pre_spike = self.register_constant_delay('ps', size=self.pre.num, delay=delay)
    # functions
    self.integral = bp.odeint(self.derivative, method='exponential_euler')

  def derivative(self, s, t):
    dsdt = - s / self.tau
    return dsdt

  def update(self, _t, _dt):
    # P1: push the pre-synaptic spikes into the delay
    # P2: pull the delayed pre-synaptic spikes
    delayed_pre_spike = self.pre_spike.pull()
    # P3: update the synatic state
    self.s[:] = self.integral(self.s, _t)
    for syn_i in range(self.num):
      pre_i, post_i = self.pre_ids[syn_i], self.post_ids[syn_i]
      # P4: whether pre-synaptic neuron generates a spike
      if delayed_pre_spike[pre_i]:
        self.s[syn_i] += 1.
      # P5: output the synapse current onto the post-synaptic neuron
      self.post.input[post_i] += self.g_max * self.s[syn_i] * (self.E - self.post.V[post_i])

Here, we create a synaptic model by using the synaptic structures of pre_ids and post_ids , looks like this:

The pre-synaptic neuron index (pre ids) is shown in the green color. The post-synaptic neuron index (post ids) is shown in the red color. Each pair of (pre id, post id) denotes a synapse between two neuron groups. Each synapse connection also has a unique index, called the synapse index, which is shown in the third row (syn ids).


In above, we have illustrated how to define neurons by brainpy.NeuGroup and synapses by brainpy.TwoEndConn. In the next, we talk about how to create a network by using brainpy.Network.

E/I balanced network

Here, we try to create a E/I balanced network according to the reference [1].

This EI network has 4000 leaky integrate-and-fire neurons. Each integrate-and-fire neuron is characterized by a time constant, \(\tau\) = 20 ms, and a resting membrane potential, \(V_{rest}\) = -60 mV. Whenever the membrane potential crosses a spiking threshold of -50 mV, an action potential is generated and the membrane potential is reset to the resting potential, where it remains clamped for a 5 ms refractory period.

num_exc = 3200
num_inh = 800

E = LIF(num_exc, tau=20, V_th=-50, V_rest=-60, V_reset=-60, t_refractory=5., monitors=['spike'])
I = LIF(num_inh, tau=20, V_th=-50, V_rest=-60, V_reset=-60, t_refractory=5.)
E.V[:] = bm.random.randn(num_exc) * 5. - 55.
I.V[:] = bm.random.randn(num_inh) * 5. - 55.

The ratio of the excitatory and inhibitory neurons are 4:1. The neurons connect to each other randomly with a connection probability of 2%.

The kinetics of the synapse is governed by the exponential synapse model shown above. Specifically, synaptic time constants \(\tau_e\) = 5 ms for excitatory synapses and \(\tau_i\) = 10 ms for inhibitory synapse. The maximum synaptic conductance is \(0.6\) for the excitatory synapse and \(6.7\) for the inhibitory synapse. Reversal potentials are \(E_e\) = 0 mV and \(E_i\) = -80 mV.

E2E = Exponential(E, E, bp.connect.FixedProb(prob=0.02), E=0., g_max=0.6, tau=5)
E2I = Exponential(E, I, bp.connect.FixedProb(prob=0.02), E=0., g_max=0.6, tau=5)
I2E = Exponential(I, E, bp.connect.FixedProb(prob=0.02), E=-80., g_max=6.7, tau=10)
I2I = Exponential(I, I, bp.connect.FixedProb(prob=0.02), E=-80., g_max=6.7, tau=10)

After this, we can create a network to wrap these object together.

net = bp.Network(E2E, E2I, I2I, I2E, E=E, I=I)
net = bm.jit(net)
net.run(100., inputs=[('E.input', 20.), ('I.input', 20.)], report=0.1)
bp.visualize.raster_plot(E.mon.ts, E.mon.spike, show=True)
Compilation used 4.8391 s.
Start running ...
Run 10.0% used 1.485 s.
Run 20.0% used 2.806 s.
Run 30.0% used 4.120 s.
Run 40.0% used 5.506 s.
Run 50.0% used 6.886 s.
Run 60.0% used 8.214 s.
Run 70.0% used 9.513 s.
Run 80.0% used 10.834 s.
Run 90.0% used 12.197 s.
Run 100.0% used 13.507 s.
Simulation is done in 13.507 s.


[1] Brette, R., Rudolph, M., Carnevale, T., Hines, M., Beeman, D., Bower, J. M., et al. (2007), Simulation of networks of spiking neurons: a review of tools and strategies., J. Comput. Neurosci., 23, 3, 349–98