On the Validity of Neural Mass Models

Nicolás Deschle*, Juan Ignacio Gossn, Prejaas Tewarie, Björn Schelter, Andreas Daffertshofer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Modeling the dynamics of neural masses is a common approach in the study of neural populations. Various models have been proven useful to describe a plenitude of empirical observations including self-sustained local oscillations and patterns of distant synchronization. We discuss the extent to which mass models really resemble the mean dynamics of a neural population. In particular, we question the validity of neural mass models if the population under study comprises a mixture of excitatory and inhibitory neurons that are densely (inter-)connected. Starting from a network of noisy leaky integrate-and-fire neurons, we formulated two different population dynamics that both fall into the category of seminal Freeman neural mass models. The derivations contained several mean-field assumptions and time scale separation(s) between membrane and synapse dynamics. Our comparison of these neural mass models with the averaged dynamics of the population reveals bounds in the fraction of excitatory/inhibitory neuron as well as overall network degree for a mass model to provide adequate estimates. For substantial parameter ranges, our models fail to mimic the neural network's dynamics proper, be that in de-synchronized or in (high-frequency) synchronized states. Only around the onset of low-frequency synchronization our models provide proper estimates of the mean potential dynamics. While this shows their potential for, e.g., studying resting state dynamics obtained by encephalography with focus on the transition region, we must accept that predicting the more general dynamic outcome of a neural network via its mass dynamics requires great care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number581040
JournalFrontiers in computational neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Freeman model
  • leaky integrate and fire
  • mean field approximation
  • neural mass model
  • random graph


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