Journal article

Identifying, tabulating, and analyzing contacts between branched neuron morphologies

Simulating neural tissue requires the construction of models of the anatomical structure and physiological function of neural microcircuitry. The Blue Brain Project is simulating the microcircuitry of a neocortical column with very high structural and physiological precision. This paper describes how we model anatomical structure by identifying, tabulating, and analyzing contacts between 104 neurons in a morphologically precise model of a column. A contact occurs when one element touches another, providing the opportunity for the subsequent creation of a simulated synapse. The architecture of our application divides the problem of detecting and analyzing contacts among thousands of processors on the IBM Blue Gene/L™ supercomputer. Data required for contact tabulation is encoded with geometrical data for contact detection and is exchanged among processors. Each processor selects a subset of neurons and then iteratively 1) divides the number of points that represents each neuron among column subvolumes, 2) detects contacts in a subvolume, 3) tabulates arbitrary categories of local contacts, 4) aggregates and analyzes global contacts, and 5) revises the contents of a column to achieve a statistical objective. Computing, analyzing, and optimizing local data in parallel across distributed global data objects involve problems common to other domains (such as three-dimensional image processing and registration). Thus, we discuss the generic nature of the application architecture.


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