Noise in the nervous system

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 Apr;9(4):292-303. doi: 10.1038/nrn2258.


Noise--random disturbances of signals--poses a fundamental problem for information processing and affects all aspects of nervous-system function. However, the nature, amount and impact of noise in the nervous system have only recently been addressed in a quantitative manner. Experimental and computational methods have shown that multiple noise sources contribute to cellular and behavioural trial-to-trial variability. We review the sources of noise in the nervous system, from the molecular to the behavioural level, and show how noise contributes to trial-to-trial variability. We highlight how noise affects neuronal networks and the principles the nervous system applies to counter detrimental effects of noise, and briefly discuss noise's potential benefits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Information Theory
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Nervous System*
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Noise*