“Is there sufficient evidence for criticality in cortical systems?
Alain Destexhe and Jonathan Touboul

eNeuro 8: 0551-20, 2021.

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Numerous studies have proposed that specific brain activity statistics provide evidence that the brain operates at a critical point, which could have implications for the brain’s information processing capabilities. A recent paper reported that identical scalings and criticality signatures arise in a variety of different neural systems (neural cultures, cortical slices, anesthetized or awake brains, across both reptiles and mammals). The diversity of these states calls into question the claimed role of criticality in information processing. We analyze the methodology used to assess criticality and replicate this analysis for spike trains of two non-critical systems. These two non-critical systems pass all the tests used to assess criticality in the aforementioned recent paper. This analysis provides a crucial control (which is absent from the original study) and suggests that the methodology used may not be sufficient to establish that a system operates at criticality. Hence whether the brain operates at criticality or not remains an open question and it is of evident interest to develop more robust methods to address these questions.

This commentary was written in reply to a previous paper (Fontenele et al., Criticality between cortical states. Phys. Rev. Lett. 122: 208101, 2019).

Program code
The program codes simulating the models and analyses of this article are available at: