Nicolas Brunel

Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience

Nicolas Brunel has made seminal contributions to theoretical neuroscience, ranging from synaptic plasticity and information processing at the single neuron level to the dynamics of neural networks and memory. He is a leading figure in the field, combining a rigorous mathematical approach with a wide understanding of neuroscience. Among many valuable discoveries, his research elucidated the mechanisms of persistent activity in cortical networks — thought to be the substrate of working memory — and the dynamics of networks of spiking neurons. He also designed an innovative method to infer synaptic plasticity rules from distributions of neural responses to novel and familiar stimuli and modeled how neurons respond to noisy inputs, revealing how the firing rate depends on the statistics of the inputs. Brunel’s contributions accomplish one of the main deliverables of computational and theoretical approaches: using what is measurable (such as neural responses) to infer the organization and operation of the brain.