Convergent Temperature Representations in Artificial and Biological Neural Networks

Neuron. 2019 Sep 25;103(6):1123-1134.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.07.003. Epub 2019 Jul 31.


Discoveries in biological neural networks (BNNs) shaped artificial neural networks (ANNs) and computational parallels between ANNs and BNNs have recently been discovered. However, it is unclear to what extent discoveries in ANNs can give insight into BNN function. Here, we designed and trained an ANN to perform heat gradient navigation and found striking similarities in computation and heat representation to a known zebrafish BNN. This included shared ON- and OFF-type representations of absolute temperature and rates of change. Importantly, ANN function critically relied on zebrafish-like units. We furthermore used the accessibility of the ANN to discover a new temperature-responsive cell type in the zebrafish cerebellum. Finally, constraining the ANN by the C. elegans motor repertoire retuned sensory representations indicating that our approach generalizes. Together, these results emphasize convergence of ANNs and BNNs on stereotypical representations and that ANNs form a powerful tool to understand their biological counterparts.

Keywords: C. elegans; artificial neural network; comparative computation; computation; representation; thermosensation; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Cerebellum / cytology
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology*
  • Supervised Machine Learning
  • Thermosensing / physiology*
  • Zebrafish