Neurons learn by predicting future activity

Nat Mach Intell. 2022 Jan;4(1):62-72. doi: 10.1038/s42256-021-00430-y. Epub 2022 Jan 25.


Understanding how the brain learns may lead to machines with human-like intellectual capacities. It was previously proposed that the brain may operate on the principle of predictive coding. However, it is still not well understood how a predictive system could be implemented in the brain. Here we demonstrate that the ability of a single neuron to predict its future activity may provide an effective learning mechanism. Interestingly, this predictive learning rule can be derived from a metabolic principle, where neurons need to minimize their own synaptic activity (cost), while maximizing their impact on local blood supply by recruiting other neurons. We show how this mathematically derived learning rule can provide a theoretical connection between diverse types of brain-inspired algorithms, thus, offering a step toward development of a general theory of neuronal learning. We tested this predictive learning rule in neural network simulations and in data recorded from awake animals. Our results also suggest that spontaneous brain activity provides "training data" for neurons to learn to predict cortical dynamics. Thus, the ability of a single neuron to minimize surprise: i.e. the difference between actual and expected activity, could be an important missing element to understand computation in the brain.