Spontaneous neural activity is present in many parts of the developing nervous system, including visual, auditory and motor areas. In the developing retina, nearby neurons are spontaneously active and produce propagating patterns of activity, known as retinal waves. Such activity is thought to instruct the refinement of retinal axons. In this article we review several computational models used to help evaluate the mechanisms that might be responsible for the generation of retinal waves. We then discuss the models relative to the molecular mechanisms underlying wave activity, including gap junctions, neurotransmitters and second messenger systems. We examine how well the models represent these mechanisms and propose areas for future modelling research. The retinal wave models are also discussed in relation to models of spontaneous activity in other areas of the developing nervous system.
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