Spike Frequency Adaptation: Bridging Neural Models and Neuromorphic Applications

Exploring Spiking Neural Networks (SNNs) inspired by the brain's efficiency, this post introduces Spike Frequency Adaptation (SFA) — a mechanism adjusting neurons' spike rates for enhanced computational performance and energy efficiency in neuromorphic systems.
Spike Frequency Adaptation: Bridging Neural Models and Neuromorphic Applications

The human brain’s unparalleled efficiency in executing complex cognitive tasks stems from neurons communicating via short, intermittent bursts or spikes. This has inspired Spiking Neural Networks (SNNs), now incorporating neuron models with spike frequency adaptation (SFA). SFA adjusts these spikes’ frequency based on recent neuronal activity, much like an athlete’s varying sprint speed. SNNs with SFA demonstrate improved computational performance and energy efficiency. 

A Simple Analogy for Spike Frequency Adaptation

Imagine you're at a restaurant eagerly awaiting the first bite of a delicious dosa. With the first few bites, your satisfaction soars — each bite is moreish and gratifying. But as you continue, your satisfaction doesn't spike as high with each subsequent bite; the initial excitement wanes as you become accustomed to the taste. This is akin to how neurons experience SFA. At first exposure to a stimulus, neurons respond with a flurry of activity. But if the stimulus is constant and unchanging, like the continuous taste of dosa, the neurons adjust, reducing their activity. This isn't due to a loss of function, but rather an intelligent conservation of energy and focus for new, changing stimuli — similar to how you might suddenly pay attention if a new dish arrives at your table.

This illustration captures the essence of Spike Frequency Adaptation (SFA) using the relatable experience of savoring a dosa. Just as our initial delight in the taste diminishes over time, neurons reduce their response to constant stimulation, conserving energy for new, diverse sensory experiences. The top panel shows unchanging high satisfaction without SFA, whereas the bottom panel depicts the adaptive satisfaction threshold with SFA over time, reflecting the brain's efficient allocation of attention.

The Biological Basis of SFA

Biologically, SFA may occur due to several reasons, including:

  • Short-term synaptic depression: Depletion of synaptic vesicles at the neuron connection site prevents signal transmission from the pre-synaptic to the post-synaptic neuron.
  • Increased spiking threshold: Activation of potassium channels by calcium in the post-synaptic neuron raises the threshold needed for spiking, negating the effect of an input current that would have previously caused a spike.
  • Lateral and feedback inhibition: Within the local network of neurons, such inhibition diminishes the impact of excitatory inputs over time, which also hampers spike generation.

Advantages of SFA in Biology and Their Mimicry in Artificial Intelligence

From a biological perspective, the SFA mechanism showcases several benefits that have been tried replicating in SNNs. Primarily, SFA contributes to lowering metabolic costs through sparse coding [1] by reducing the firing rate when inputs are repetitive or of constant high intensity, leading to decreased power consumption. This principle is directly applied to SNNs, enhancing their energy efficiency. Moreover, SFA aids in isolating high-frequency signals from noisy backgrounds [2], an advantage utilized in the early layers of SNNs to filter out noise. Additionally, SFA acts as a form of elementary short-term memory at the cellular level [3], which has been leveraged to develop recurrent SNNs with capabilities approaching those of traditional artificial neural networks for complex spatiotemporal tasks.

SFA essentially enhances the neural code's efficiency and accuracy, optimizing the transmission of information by adjusting the spike output range to match the statistical variations of the environment rather than its absolute intensity, thus reducing noise and suppressing redundant information. This increases entropy and improves the detection of significant stimuli. Despite these biological benefits, the full potential of SFA in facilitating low-power, high-entropy computations in artificial networks has yet to be fully realized. Additionally, SFA's role in timing spikes precisely is crucial for achieving convergence in SNNs. Research has shown that incorporating SFA-based neurons can decrease the overall neuron count [4], accelerate convergence [5], and address the challenge of vanishing gradients [6], indicating its significant impact on improving computational efficiency and network performance.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

SFA edges us closer to emulating the brain's remarkable efficiency. As this field progresses, the intricate potential of SFA is increasingly revealed, calling for inventive strategies and expanded research efforts. Challenges include fully harnessing SFA's capabilities, from optimizing spike encoding and deploying effective learning algorithms to developing heterogeneous network architectures and advancing neuromorphic hardware implementations.

Moreover, the unique characteristics of SFA present numerous future possibilities. For instance, SFA-based neurons could enhance system robustness against noise, serving as a defense mechanism against adversarial attacks. Its capacity for long-term memory-like behavior holds promise for lifelong learning systems, where the necessity for frequent updates diminishes as the network matures, mirroring a trait achievable through SFA-based neurons. This capability further opens avenues for meta-learning, facilitated by the inherent regularization provided by SFA.

Additionally, the integration of SFA with emerging Non-Volatile Memory technologies could lead to the development of highly energy-efficient neuromorphic systems. Such systems would not incur additional energy costs for memory maintenance, relying instead on precisely timed spikes for activation, thereby significantly reducing power consumption.

The diagram unveils a the multifaceted open challenges yet to be thoroughly addressed for fully leveraging the merits of SFA, b outlines a methodological roadmap for the progressive development of SFA, and c pinpoints the promising avenues and untapped potential for future research and innovative applications.
The diagram unveils the a multifaceted open challenges yet to be thoroughly addressed for fully leveraging the merits of SFA, b outlines a methodological roadmap for the progressive development of SFA, and c pinpoints the promising avenues and untapped potential for future research and innovative applications.

Amid the vast wonders of nature and the profound intricacies of the human brain, we tried to explore spike frequency adaptation through a review article, bringing together insights from a multidisciplinary team of experts in mathematical neuron modeling, neuroscience, algorithm design, hardware development, and practical applications. For a thorough exploration of SFA and its impact on neuromorphic computing, we invite you to delve into our article [7] : https://www.nature.com/articles/s44172-024-00165-9

We are thankful to the editor Dr. Rosamund Daw and the reviewers for providing us with constructive feedback along this journey to help us improve the work at each step. We hope the insights shared will be helpful for the community, paving the way for more efficient computing solutions for the future.


[1] Farkhooi, F., Froese, A., Muller, E., Menzel, R. & Nawrot, M. P. Cellular adaptation facilitates sparse and reliable coding in sensory pathways. PLoS Comput. Biol. 9, e1003251 (2013).

[2] Benda, J., Longtin, A. & Maler, L. Spike-frequency adaptation separates transient communication signals from background oscillations. J. Neurosci. 25, 2312–2321 (2005).

[3] Marder, E., Abbott, L., Turrigiano, G. G., Liu, Z. & Golowasch, J. Memory from the dynamics of intrinsic membrane currents. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 93, 13481–13486 (1996).

[4] Shaban, A., Bezugam, S.S. & Suri, M. An adaptive threshold neuron for recurrent spiking neural networks with nanodevice hardware implementation. Nat Commun 12, 4234 (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-24427-8  

[5] S. S. Bezugam, A. Shaban and M. Suri, "Neuromorphic Recurrent Spiking Neural Networks for EMG Gesture Classification and Low Power Implementation on Loihi," 2023 IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems (ISCAS), Monterey, CA, USA, 2023, pp. 1-5, doi: 10.1109/ISCAS46773.2023.10181510.

[6] Bellec, G., Scherr, F., Subramoney, A. et al. A solution to the learning dilemma for recurrent networks of spiking neurons. Nat Commun 11, 3625 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17236-y  

[7] Ganguly, C., Bezugam, S. S., Abs, E., Payvand, M., Dey, S., & Suri, M. (2024). Spike frequency adaptation: bridging neural models and neuromorphic applications. Communications Engineering3(1), 22.

Please sign in or register for FREE

If you are a registered user on Research Communities by Springer Nature, please sign in

Subscribe to the Topic

Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Neuroscience
Computer Engineering and Networks
Mathematics and Computing > Computer Science > Computer Engineering and Networks
Artificial Intelligence
Mathematics and Computing > Computer Science > Artificial Intelligence

Related Collections

With collections, you can get published faster and increase your visibility.

Consumer waste valorization

This collection will focus on chemical, materials, mechanical and other engineering advances tackling post-consumer solid waste streams such as textiles and paper, food, electronics and plastics.

Publishing Model: Open Access

Deadline: May 31, 2024

Thermal Engineering for Sustainability

This collection will publish papers on the topic of thermal engineering with a particular focus on applications related to sustainability.

Publishing Model: Open Access

Deadline: Mar 30, 2024