Noise in neurons is message dependent

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 May 9;97(10):5557-61. doi: 10.1073/pnas.100113597.


Neuronal responses are conspicuously variable. We focus on one particular aspect of that variability: the precision of action potential timing. We show that for common models of noisy spike generation, elementary considerations imply that such variability is a function of the input, and can be made arbitrarily large or small by a suitable choice of inputs. Our considerations are expected to extend to virtually any mechanism of spike generation, and we illustrate them with data from the visual pathway. Thus, a simplification usually made in the application of information theory to neural processing is violated: noise is not independent of the message. However, we also show the existence of error-correcting topologies, which can achieve better timing reliability than their components.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Noise
  • Time Factors