Impact of active dendrites and structural plasticity on the memory capacity of neural tissue

Neuron. 2001 Mar;29(3):779-96. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(01)00252-5.


We consider the combined effects of active dendrites and structural plasticity on the storage capacity of neural tissue. We compare capacity for two different modes of dendritic integration: (1) linear, where synaptic inputs are summed across the entire dendritic arbor, and (2) nonlinear, where each dendritic compartment functions as a separately thresholded neuron-like summing unit. We calculate much larger storage capacities for cells with nonlinear subunits and show that this capacity is accessible to a structural learning rule that combines random synapse formation with activity-dependent stabilization/elimination. In a departure from the common view that memories are encoded in the overall connection strengths between neurons, our results suggest that long-term information storage in neural tissue could reside primarily in the selective addressing of synaptic contacts onto dendritic subunits.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Mathematics
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Synapses / physiology