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Front Psychol. 2016 Nov 18;7:1792. eCollection 2016.

Neural Elements for Predictive Coding.

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Laboratory of Visual Perceptual Mechanisms, Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of SciencesShanghai, China; INSERM U1208, Stem Cell and Brain Research InstituteBron, France; Department of Visual Neuroscience, UCL Institute of OphthalmologyLondon, UK.


Predictive coding theories of sensory brain function interpret the hierarchical construction of the cerebral cortex as a Bayesian, generative model capable of predicting the sensory data consistent with any given percept. Predictions are fed backward in the hierarchy and reciprocated by prediction error in the forward direction, acting to modify the representation of the outside world at increasing levels of abstraction, and so to optimize the nature of perception over a series of iterations. This accounts for many 'illusory' instances of perception where what is seen (heard, etc.) is unduly influenced by what is expected, based on past experience. This simple conception, the hierarchical exchange of prediction and prediction error, confronts a rich cortical microcircuitry that is yet to be fully documented. This article presents the view that, in the current state of theory and practice, it is profitable to begin a two-way exchange: that predictive coding theory can support an understanding of cortical microcircuit function, and prompt particular aspects of future investigation, whilst existing knowledge of microcircuitry can, in return, influence theoretical development. As an example, a neural inference arising from the earliest formulations of predictive coding is that the source populations of forward and backward pathways should be completely separate, given their functional distinction; this aspect of circuitry - that neurons with extrinsically bifurcating axons do not project in both directions - has only recently been confirmed. Here, the computational architecture prescribed by a generalized (free-energy) formulation of predictive coding is combined with the classic 'canonical microcircuit' and the laminar architecture of hierarchical extrinsic connectivity to produce a template schematic, that is further examined in the light of (a) updates in the microcircuitry of primate visual cortex, and (b) rapid technical advances made possible by transgenic neural engineering in the mouse. The exercise highlights a number of recurring themes, amongst them the consideration of interneuron diversity as a spur to theoretical development and the potential for specifying a pyramidal neuron's function by its individual 'connectome,' combining its extrinsic projection (forward, backward or subcortical) with evaluation of its intrinsic network (e.g., unidirectional versus bidirectional connections with other pyramidal neurons).


canonical microcircuit; feedback inhibition; forward pathway; generative model; hierarchy; interneuron function; precision; prediction error

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