Nonoptimal Component Placement, but Short Processing Paths, Due to Long-Distance Projections in Neural Systems
Hilgetag, Claus C
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CitationKaiser, Marcus, Claus C Hilgetag. "Nonoptimal Component Placement, but Short Processing Paths, due to Long-Distance Projections in Neural Systems" PLoS Computational Biology 2(7): e95. (2006)
It has been suggested that neural systems across several scales of organization show optimal component placement, in which any spatial rearrangement of the components would lead to an increase of total wiring. Using extensive connectivity datasets for diverse neural networks combined with spatial coordinates for network nodes, we applied an optimization algorithm to the network layouts, in order to search for wire-saving component rearrangements. We found that optimized component rearrangements could substantially reduce total wiring length in all tested neural networks. Specifically, total wiring among 95 primate (Macaque) cortical areas could be decreased by 32%, and wiring of neuronal networks in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans could be reduced by 48% on the global level, and by 49% for neurons within frontal ganglia. Wiring length reductions were possible due to the existence of long-distance projections in neural networks. We explored the role of these projections by comparing the original networks with minimally rewired networks of the same size, which possessed only the shortest possible connections. In the minimally rewired networks, the number of processing steps along the shortest paths between components was significantly increased compared to the original networks. Additional benchmark comparisons also indicated that neural networks are more similar to network layouts that minimize the length of processing paths, rather than wiring length. These findings suggest that neural systems are not exclusively optimized for minimal global wiring, but for a variety of factors including the minimization of processing steps. SynopsisWhat constraints shape the organization and spatial layout of neural networks? One influential idea in theoretical neuroscience has been that the overall wiring of neural networks should be as short as possible. Wire-saving could be achieved, for instance, through an optimal spatial arrangement of the connected network components. The authors evaluated this concept of component placement optimization in two representative systems, the neuronal network of the Caenorhabditis elegans worm and the long-range cortical connections of the primate brain. Contrary to previous results, they found many network layouts with substantially shorter total wiring than that of the original biological networks. This nonoptimal component placement arose from the existence of long-distance connections in the networks. Such connections may come at a developmental and metabolic cost; however, as the analyses reported in this article show, they also help to reduce the number of signal processing steps across the networks. Therefore, the organization of neural networks is shaped by trade-offs from multiple constraints, among them total wiring length and the average number of processing steps.