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Front Neural Circuits. 2016 Mar 30;10:23. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2016.00023. eCollection 2016.

Why Neurons Have Thousands of Synapses, a Theory of Sequence Memory in Neocortex.

Author information

1
Numenta, Inc. Redwood City, CA, USA.

Abstract

Pyramidal neurons represent the majority of excitatory neurons in the neocortex. Each pyramidal neuron receives input from thousands of excitatory synapses that are segregated onto dendritic branches. The dendrites themselves are segregated into apical, basal, and proximal integration zones, which have different properties. It is a mystery how pyramidal neurons integrate the input from thousands of synapses, what role the different dendrites play in this integration, and what kind of network behavior this enables in cortical tissue. It has been previously proposed that non-linear properties of dendrites enable cortical neurons to recognize multiple independent patterns. In this paper we extend this idea in multiple ways. First we show that a neuron with several thousand synapses segregated on active dendrites can recognize hundreds of independent patterns of cellular activity even in the presence of large amounts of noise and pattern variation. We then propose a neuron model where patterns detected on proximal dendrites lead to action potentials, defining the classic receptive field of the neuron, and patterns detected on basal and apical dendrites act as predictions by slightly depolarizing the neuron without generating an action potential. By this mechanism, a neuron can predict its activation in hundreds of independent contexts. We then present a network model based on neurons with these properties that learns time-based sequences. The network relies on fast local inhibition to preferentially activate neurons that are slightly depolarized. Through simulation we show that the network scales well and operates robustly over a wide range of parameters as long as the network uses a sparse distributed code of cellular activations. We contrast the properties of the new network model with several other neural network models to illustrate the relative capabilities of each. We conclude that pyramidal neurons with thousands of synapses, active dendrites, and multiple integration zones create a robust and powerful sequence memory. Given the prevalence and similarity of excitatory neurons throughout the neocortex and the importance of sequence memory in inference and behavior, we propose that this form of sequence memory may be a universal property of neocortical tissue.

KEYWORDS:

active dendrites; neocortex; neocortical theory; prediction; sequence memory

PMID:
27065813
PMCID:
PMC4811948
DOI:
10.3389/fncir.2016.00023
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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