NESTML - Eine Modellierungssprache für biologisch realistische Neuronen- und Synapsenmodelle für NEST

Simulations in the field of computational neuroscience are used to integrate the huge amount of anatomical and physiological data coming from wet-lab neuroscience, test the data for consistency, and verify functional hypotheses.

NEST [1, 2] is a simulator for spiking neural networks. Its neuron and synapse models are written in C++, which requires intimate knowledge of both the programming language and internals of the simulator and thus makes it hard to understand existing models and to create new ones.

The goal of the NESTML project is to ease model writing for neuroscientists by providing an additional language layer on top of NEST and a component library to allow a composition of models, developed with the MontiCore framework [3, 4], along with the tools to generate efficient C++ code for the NEST Simulator from such model descriptions. The new abstraction layer can then also be used by other high-level modeling languages such as NineML or NeuroML.


[1] Gewaltig M., Diesmann M. (2007) NEST (NEural Simulation Tool). Scholarpedia 2(4):1430
[3] Krahn H., Rumpe B., Völkl S. (2010) MontiCore: A Framework for Compositional Development of Domain Specific Languages. International Journal on Software Tools for Technology Transfer (STTT) 12(5): 353-372


Since the beginning of 2015 scientists are working on this JARA-HPC Seed Fund Project. The project aims at developing a special high-level description language and the infrastructure to create neuron models for the neuronal simulator NEST (

With this novel language, neuroscientists using NEST can express their neuron models with domain concepts instead of formulating them in the general purpose programming language C++.

The results of the work so far have been presented in an article at the conference Modellierung 2016, while the tools are available as open source software.

To evaluate the concepts and bring the tools to potential users, a community workshop with 15 participants was held from 7th to 8th December 2015. The feedback was generally very positive and has already been integrated into the current version of NESTML.

NESTML is a collaboration between the Chair of Software Engineering at RWTH Aachen University and the department Computational and Systems Neuroscience (INM-6) of the Insitute of Neuroscience and Medicine at Forschungszentrum Jülich.

Project duration:

January 2015 - December 2016


Prof. Dr. Abigail Morrison, Simulation Lab Neuroscience, Institute for Advanced Simulation, Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Dr. Jochen M. Eppler, Simulation Lab Neuroscience, Institute for Advanced Simulation, Jülich Supercomputing Centre, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Rumpe, Lehrstuhl für Software Engineering, RWTH Aachen