Effects of Altered Excitation-Inhibition Balance on Decision Making in a Cortical Circuit Model

Norman H. Lam, Thiago Borduqui, Jaime Hallak, Antonio Roque, Alan Anticevic, John H. Krystal, Xiao Jing Wang, John D. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The synaptic balance between excitation and inhibition (E/I balance) is a fundamental principle of cortical circuits, and disruptions in E/I balance are commonly linked to cognitive deficits such as impaired decision-making. Explanatory gaps remain in a mechanistic understanding of how E/I balance contributes to cognitive computations, and how E/I disruptions at the synaptic level can propagate to induce behavioral deficits. Here, we studied how E/I perturbations may impair perceptual decision-making in a biophysically-based association cortical circuit model. We found that both elevating and lowering E/I ratio, via NMDA receptor (NMDAR) hypofunction at inhibitory interneurons and excitatory pyramidal neurons, respectively, can similarly impair psychometric performance, following an inverted-U dependence. Nonetheless, these E/I perturbations differentially alter the process of evidence accumulation across time. Under elevated E/I ratio, decision-making is impulsive, overweighting early evidence and underweighting late evidence. Under lowered E/I ratio, decision-making is indecisive, with both evidence integration and winner-take-all competition weakened. The distinct time courses of evidence accumulation at the circuit level can be measured at the behavioral level, using multiple psychophysical task paradigms which provide dissociable predictions. These results are well captured by a generalized drift-diffusion model (DDM) with self-coupling, implementing leaky or unstable integration, which thereby links biophysical circuit modeling to algorithmic process modeling and facilitates model fitting to behavioral choice data. In general, our findings characterize critical roles of cortical E/I balance in cognitive function, bridging from biophysical to behavioral levels of analysis.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Cognitive deficits in multiple neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, have been associated with alterations in the balance of synaptic excitation and inhibition (E/I) in cerebral cortical circuits. However, the circuit mechanisms by which E/I imbalance leads to cognitive deficits in decision-making have remained unclear. We used a computational model of decision-making in cortical circuits to study the neural and behavioral effects of E/I imbalance. We found that elevating and lowering E/I ratio produce distinct modes of dysfunction in decision-making processes, which can be dissociated in behavior through psychophysical task paradigms. The biophysical circuit model can be mapped onto a psychological model of decision-making which can facilitate experimental tests of model predictions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1035-1053
Number of pages19
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 9 2022


  • NMDAR hypofunction
  • computational model
  • decision making
  • drift-diffusion model
  • excitation-inhibition balance
  • psychophysics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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