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Elife. 2015 Nov 30;4:e10778. doi: 10.7554/eLife.10778.

Nanoconnectomic upper bound on the variability of synaptic plasticity.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, United States.
McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, United States.
Center for Learning and Memory, Department of Neuroscience, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, United States.
Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, United States.


Information in a computer is quantified by the number of bits that can be stored and recovered. An important question about the brain is how much information can be stored at a synapse through synaptic plasticity, which depends on the history of probabilistic synaptic activity. The strong correlation between size and efficacy of a synapse allowed us to estimate the variability of synaptic plasticity. In an EM reconstruction of hippocampal neuropil we found single axons making two or more synaptic contacts onto the same dendrites, having shared histories of presynaptic and postsynaptic activity. The spine heads and neck diameters, but not neck lengths, of these pairs were nearly identical in size. We found that there is a minimum of 26 distinguishable synaptic strengths, corresponding to storing 4.7 bits of information at each synapse. Because of stochastic variability of synaptic activation the observed precision requires averaging activity over several minutes.


Connectome; Neural Information Processing; Synaptic Structure and Function; neuroscience; rat

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