Ionic Current Variability and Functional Stability in the Nervous System

Bioscience. 2014 Jul;64(7):570-580. doi: 10.1093/biosci/biu070.


Identified neurons in different animals express ionic currents at highly variable levels (population variability). If neuronal identity is associated with stereotypical function, as is the case in genetically identical neurons or in unambiguously identified individual neurons, this variability poses a conundrum: How is activity the same if the components that generate it-ionic current levels-are different? In some cases, ionic current variability across similar neurons generates an output gradient. However, many neurons produce very similar output activity, despite substantial variability in ionic conductances. It appears that, in many such cells, conductance levels of one ionic current vary in proportion to the conductance levels of another current. As a result, in a population of neurons, these conductances appear to be correlated. Here, I review theoretical and experimental work that suggests that neuronal ionic current correlation can reduce the global ionic current variability and can contribute to functional stability.

Keywords: animal physiology; conductances; homeostasis; neurobiology; variability.