Altering neuronal excitability to preserve network connectivity in a computational model of Alzheimer's disease

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Neuronal hyperactivity and hyperexcitability of the cerebral cortex and hippocampal region is an increasingly observed phenomenon in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In later stages, oscillatory slowing and loss of functional connectivity are ubiquitous. Recent evidence suggests that neuronal dynamics have a prominent role in AD pathophysiology, making it a potentially interesting therapeutic target. However, although neuronal activity can be manipulated by various (non-)pharmacological means, intervening in a highly integrated system that depends on complex dynamics can produce counterintuitive and adverse effects. Computational dynamic network modeling may serve as a virtual test ground for developing effective interventions. To explore this approach, a previously introduced large-scale neural mass network with human brain topology was used to simulate the temporal evolution of AD-like, activity-dependent network degeneration. In addition, six defense strategies that either enhanced or diminished neuronal excitability were tested against the degeneration process, targeting excitatory and inhibitory neurons combined or separately. Outcome measures described oscillatory, connectivity and topological features of the damaged networks. Over time, the various interventions produced diverse large-scale network effects. Contrary to our hypothesis, the most successful strategy was a selective stimulation of all excitatory neurons in the network; it substantially prolonged the preservation of network integrity. The results of this study imply that functional network damage due to pathological neuronal activity can be opposed by targeted adjustment of neuronal excitability levels. The present approach may help to explore therapeutic effects aimed at preserving or restoring neuronal network integrity and contribute to better-informed intervention choices in future clinical trials in AD.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1005707
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017

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