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Neuron. 2001 Mar;29(3):779-96.

Impact of active dendrites and structural plasticity on the memory capacity of neural tissue.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA.


We consider the combined effects of active dendrites and structural plasticity on the storage capacity of neural tissue. We compare capacity for two different modes of dendritic integration: (1) linear, where synaptic inputs are summed across the entire dendritic arbor, and (2) nonlinear, where each dendritic compartment functions as a separately thresholded neuron-like summing unit. We calculate much larger storage capacities for cells with nonlinear subunits and show that this capacity is accessible to a structural learning rule that combines random synapse formation with activity-dependent stabilization/elimination. In a departure from the common view that memories are encoded in the overall connection strengths between neurons, our results suggest that long-term information storage in neural tissue could reside primarily in the selective addressing of synaptic contacts onto dendritic subunits.

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