Degeneracy in the nervous system: from neuronal excitability to neural coding

Bioessays. 2022 Jan;44(1):e2100148. doi: 10.1002/bies.202100148. Epub 2021 Nov 17.


Degeneracy is ubiquitous across biological systems where structurally different elements can yield a similar outcome. Degeneracy is of particular interest in neuroscience too. On the one hand, degeneracy confers robustness to the nervous system and facilitates evolvability: Different elements provide a backup plan for the system in response to any perturbation or disturbance. On the other, a difficulty in the treatment of some neurological disorders such as chronic pain is explained in light of different elements all of which contribute to the pathological behavior of the system. Under these circumstances, targeting a specific element is ineffective because other elements can compensate for this modulation. Understanding degeneracy in the physiological context explains its beneficial role in the robustness of neural circuits. Likewise, understanding degeneracy in the pathological context opens new avenues of discovery to find more effective therapies.

Keywords: chronic pain; complexity; evolvability; ion channel | plasticity; redundancy; robustness.

MeSH terms

  • Neurons*