Emergence of a small-world functional network in cultured neurons

Julia H. Downes, Mark W. Hammond, Dimitris Xydas, Matthew C Spencer, Victor M. Becerra, Kevin Warwick, Ben Whalley, Slawomir Nasuto

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The functional networks of cultured neurons exhibit complex network properties similar to those found in vivo. Starting from random seeding, cultures undergo significant reorganization during the initial period in vitro, yet despite providing an ideal platform for observing developmental changes in neuronal connectivity, little is known about how a complex functional network evolves from isolated neurons. In the present study, evolution of functional connectivity was estimated from correlations of spontaneous activity. Network properties were quantified using complex measures from graph theory and used to compare cultures at different stages of development during the first 5 weeks in vitro. Networks obtained from young cultures (14 days in vitro) exhibited a random topology, which evolved to a small-world topology during maturation. The topology change was accompanied by an increased presence of highly connected areas (hubs) and network efficiency increased with age. The small-world topology balances integration of network areas with segregation of specialized processing units. The emergence of such network structure in cultured neurons, despite a lack of external input, points to complex intrinsic biological mechanisms. Moreover, the functional network of cultures at mature ages is efficient and highly suited to complex processing tasks.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere1002522
    Pages (from-to)e1002522
    JournalPLoS Computational Biology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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