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Biologically detailed large-scale models of the brain can now be simulated thanks to increasingly powerful massively parallel supercomputers. We present an overview, for the general technical reader, of a neuronal network model of layers II/III of the neocortex built with biophysical model neurons. These simulations, carried out on an IBM Blue Gene/L™ supercomputer, comprise up to 22 million neurons and 11 billion synapses, which makes them the largest simulations of this type ever performed. Such model sizes correspond to the cortex of a small mammal. The SPLIT library, used for these simulations, runs on single-processor as well as massively parallel machines. Performance measurements show good scaling behavior on the Blue Gene/L supercomputer up to 8,192 processors. Several key phenomena seen in the living brain appear as emergent phenomena in the simulations. We discuss the role of this kind of model in neuroscience and note that full-scale models may be necessary to preserve natural dynamics. We also discuss the need for software tools for the specification of models as well as for analysis and visualization of output data. Combining models that range from abstract connectionist type to biophysically detailed will help us unravel the basic principles underlying neocortical function.
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