Plotting tools

The brian2tools package offers plotting tools for some standard plots of various brian2 objects. It provides two approaches to produce plots:

  1. a convenience method brian_plot that takes an object such as a SpikeMonitor and produces a useful plot out of it (in this case, a raster plot). This method is rather meant for quick investigation than for creating publication-ready plots. The details of these plots might change in future versions, so do not rely in this function if you expect your plots to stay the same.
  2. specific methods such as plot_raster or plot_morphology, that allow for more detailed settings of plot parameters.

In both cases, the plotting functions will return a reference to the matplotlib Axes object, allowing to further tweak the code (e.g. setting a title, changing the labels, etc.). The functions will automatically take care of labelling the plot with the names of the plotted variables and their units (for this to work, the “unprocessed” objects have to be used: e.g. plotting neurons.v can automatically state the name v and the unit of v, whereas neurons.v[:] can only state its unit and np.array(neurons.v) will state neither name nor unit).

Plotting recorded activity

We’ll use the following example (the CUBA example from Brian 2) as a demonstration.

from brian2 import *

Vt = -50*mV
Vr = -60*mV

eqs = '''dv/dt  = (ge+gi-(v + 49*mV))/(20*ms) : volt (unless refractory)
         dge/dt = -ge/(5*ms) : volt
         dgi/dt = -gi/(10*ms) : volt
P = NeuronGroup(4000, eqs, threshold='v>Vt', reset='v = Vr', refractory=5*ms,
P.v = 'Vr + rand() * (Vt - Vr)' = 0*mV = 0*mV

we = (60*0.27/10)*mV # excitatory synaptic weight (voltage)
wi = (-20*4.5/10)*mV # inhibitory synaptic weight
Ce = Synapses(P[:3200], P, on_pre='ge += we')
Ci = Synapses(P[3200:], P, on_pre='gi += wi')

spike_mon = SpikeMonitor(P)
rate_mon = PopulationRateMonitor(P)
state_mon = StateMonitor(P, 'v', record=[0, 100, 1000])  # record three cells

run(1 * second)

We will also assume that brian2tools has been imported like this:

from brian2tools import *


To plot a basic raster plot, you can call brian_plot with the SpikeMonitor as its argument:


To have more control over the plot, or to plot spikes that are not stored in a SpikeMonitor, use plot_raster:

plot_raster(spike_mon.i, spike_mon.t, time_unit=second, marker=',', color='k')


Calling brian_plot with the PopulationRateMonitor will plot the rate smoothed with a Gaussian window with 1ms standard deviation.:


To plot the rate with a different smoothing and/or to set other details of the plot use plot_raster:

plot_rate(rate_mon.t, rate_mon.smooth_rate(window='flat', width=10.1*ms),
          linewidth=3, color='gray')

State variables

Finally, calling brian_plot with the StateMonitor will plot the recorded voltage traces:


By indexing the StateMonitor, the plot can be restricted to a subset of the recorded neurons:


Again, for more detailed control you can directly use the plot_state function. Here we also demonstrate the use of the returned Axes object to add a legend to the plot:

ax = plot_state(state_mon.t, state_mon.v.T, var_name='membrane potential', lw=2)
ax.legend(['neuron 0', 'neuron 100', 'neuron 1000'], frameon=False, loc='best')

Plotting synaptic connections and variables

For the following examples, we create synapses and synaptic weights according to “distances” (differences between the source and target indices):

from brian2 import *

group = NeuronGroup(100, 'dv/dt = -v / (10*ms) : volt',
                    threshold='v > -50*mV', reset='v = -60*mV')

synapses = Synapses(group, group, 'w : volt', on_pre='v += w')

# Connect to cells with indices no more than +/- 10 from the source index with
# a probability of 50% (but do not create self-connections)
synapses.connect(j='i+k for k in sample(-10, 10, p=0.5) if k != 0',
                 skip_if_invalid=True)  # ignore values outside of the limits
# Set synaptic weights depending on the distance (in terms of indices) between
# the source and target cell and add some randomness
synapses.w = '(exp(-(i - j)**2/10.) + 0.5 * rand())*mV'
# Set synaptic weights randomly
synapses.delay = '1*ms + 2*ms*rand()'


A call of brian_plot with a Synapses object will plot all connections, plotting either the matrix as an image, the connections as a scatter plot, or a 2-dimensional histogram (using matplotlib’s hexbin function). The decision which type of plot to use is based on some heuristics applied to the number of synapses and might possibly change in future versions:


As explained above, for a large connection matrix this would instead use an approach based on a hexagonal 2D histogram:

big_group = NeuronGroup(10000, '')
many_synapses = Synapses(big_group, big_group)
many_synapses.connect(j='i+k for k in range(-2000, 2000) if rand() < exp(-(k/1000.)**2)',

Under the hood brian_plot calls plot_synapses which can also be used directly for more control:

plot_synapses(synapses.i, synapses.j, plot_type='scatter', color='gray', marker='s')

Synaptic variables (weights, delays, etc.)

Synaptic variables such as synaptic weights or delays can also be plotted with brian_plot:

subplot(1, 2, 1)
subplot(1, 2, 2)

Again, using plot_synapses provides more control. The following code snippet also calls the add_background_pattern function to make the distinction between white color values and the background clearer:

ax = plot_synapses(synapses.i, synapses.j, synapses.w, var_name='synaptic weights',
                   plot_type='scatter', cmap='hot')
ax.set_title('Recurrent connections')

Multiple synapses per source-target pair

In Brian, source-target pairs can be connected by more than a single synapse. In this case you cannot plot synaptic state variables (because it is ill-defined what to plot) but you can still plot connections which will show how many synapses exists. For example, if we make the same connect from above a second time, the new synapses will be added to the existing ones so some source-target pairs are now connected by two synapses:

synapses.connect(j='i+k for k in sample(-10, 10, p=0.5) if k != 0',

Calling brian_plot or plot_synapses will now show the number of synapses between each pair of neurons:


Plotting neuronal morphologies

In the following, we’ll use a reconstruction from the Destexhe lab (a neocortical pyramidal neuron from the cat brain [1]) that we load into Brian:

from brian2 import *

morpho = Morphology.from_file('51-2a.CNG.swc')


Calling brian_plot with a Morphology will plot a dendogram:


The plot_dendrogram function does the same thing, but in contrast to the other plot functions it does not allow any customization at the moment, so there is no benefit over using brian_plot.

Morphologies in 2D or 3D

In addition to the dendogram which only plots the general structure but not the actual morphology of the neuron in space, you can plot the morphology using plot_morphology. For a 3D morphology, this will plot the morphology in 3D using the Mayavi package


For artificially created morphologies (where one might only use coordinates in 2D) or to get a quick view of a morphology, you can also plot it in 2D (this will be done automatically if the coordinates are 2D only):

plot_morphology(morpho, plot_3d=False)

Both 2D and 3D morphology plots can be further customized, e.g. they can show the width of the compartments and do not use the default alternation between blue and red for each section:

plot_morphology(morpho, plot_3d=True, show_compartments=True,
                show_diameter=True, colors=('darkblue',))

The plot_morphology function also makes it possible to use colors according to some property that varies between the compartments of a SpatialNeuron. This could be the membrane potential, a current or conductance, a channel density or morphological parameters like the distance to the soma. By default, it will add a colorbar and figure out a useful unit scale (e.g. mV for membrane potential values, or µm for distances):

# neuron = SpatialNeuron(...)
plot_morphology(neuron.morphology, values=neuron.distance,

This works for 3D plots as well:

plot_morphology(neuron.morphology, values=neuron.distance,

Both types of plots can be further customized, e.g. to change the details of the colorbar, the range, and the colormap:

plot_morphology(neuron.morphology, values=neuron.distance,
                value_norm=(50*um, 200*um),
                value_colormap='viridis', value_unit=mm,
                value_colorbar={'label': 'distance from soma in mm',
                                'extend': 'both'},
[1]Available at