Control of neural systems at multiple scales using model-free, deep reinforcement learning

Recent improvements in hardware and data collection have lowered the barrier to practical neural control. Most of the current contributions to the field have focus on model-based control, however, models of neural systems are quite complex and difficult to design. To circumvent these issues, we adapt a model-free method from the reinforcement learning literature, Deep Deterministic Policy Gradients (DDPG). Model-free reinforcement learning presents an attractive framework because of the flexibility it offers, allowing the user to avoid modeling system dynamics. We make use of this feature by applying DDPG to models of low-level and high-level neural dynamics. We show that while model-free, DDPG is able to solve more difficult problems than can be solved by current methods. These problems include the induction of global synchrony by entrainment of weakly coupled oscillators and the control of trajectories through a latent phase space of an underactuated network of neurons. While this work has been performed on simulated systems, it suggests that advances in modern reinforcement learning may enable the solution of fundamental problems in neural control and movement towards more complex objectives in real systems.

Brian A. Mitchell and Linda R. Petzold
Scientific Reports
Volume: 8
Number: 10721
Date: July, 2018
ICB Affiliated Authors: Linda R Petzold