Neuronal variability: noise or part of the signal?

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2005 May;6(5):389-97. doi: 10.1038/nrn1668.


Sensory, motor and cortical neurons fire impulses or spikes at a regular, but slowly declining, rate in response to a constant current stimulus. Yet, the intervals between spikes often vary randomly during behaviour. Is this variation an unavoidable effect of generating spikes by sensory or synaptic processes ('neural noise') or is it an important part of the 'signal' that is transmitted to other neurons? Here, we mainly discuss this question in relation to sensory and motor processes, as the signals are best identified in such systems, although we also touch on central processes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Electricity
  • Humans
  • Movement / physiology
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*