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Neural Comput. 2009 Jun;21(6):1714-48. doi: 10.1162/neco.2009.05-08-792.

Capacity of a single spiking neuron channel.

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Department of Mathematical Analysis and Statistical Inference, Institute of Statistical Mathematics, Tokyo 106-8569, Japan.


Information transfer through a single neuron is a fundamental component of information processing in the brain, and computing the information channel capacity is important to understand this information processing. The problem is difficult since the capacity depends on coding, characteristics of the communication channel, and optimization over input distributions, among other issues. In this letter, we consider two models. The temporal coding model of a neuron as a communication channel assumes the output is tau where tau is a gamma-distributed random variable corresponding to the interspike interval, that is, the time it takes for the neuron to fire once. The rate coding model is similar; the output is the actual rate of firing over a fixed period of time. Theoretical studies prove that the distribution of inputs, which achieves channel capacity, is a discrete distribution with finite mass points for temporal and rate coding under a reasonable assumption. This allows us to compute numerically the capacity of a neuron. Numerical results are in a plausible range based on biological evidence to date.

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