A computational model integrating brain electrophysiology and metabolism highlights the key role of extracellular potassium and oxygen
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The human brain is a small organ which uses a disproportional amount of the total metabolic energy pro- duction in the body. While it is well understood that the most significant energy sink is the maintenance of the neuronal membrane potential during the brain signaling activity, the role of astrocytes in the energy balance continues to be the topic of a lot of research. A key function of astrocytes, besides clearing glutamate from the synaptic clefts, is the potassium clearing after neuronal activation. Extracellular potassium plays a significant role in triggering neuronal firing, and elevated concentration of potassium may lead to abnormal firing pattern, e.g., seizures, thus emphasizing the importance of the glial K+ buffering role. The predictive mathematical model proposed in this paper elucidates the role of glial potassium clearing in brain energy metabolism, integrating a detailed model of the ion dynamics which regulates neuronal firing with a three compartment metabolic model. Because of the very different characteristic time scales of electrophysiology and metabolism, care must be taken when coupling the two models to ensure that the predictions, e.g., neuronal firing frequencies and the oxygen- glucose index (OGI) of the brain during activation and rest, are in agreement with empirical observations. The temporal multi-scale nature of the problem requires the design of new computational tools to ensure a stable and accurate numerical treatment of the problem. The model predictions for different protocols, including combinations of elevated activation and ischemic episodes, are in good agreement with experimental observations reported in the literature.