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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 May 9;97(10):5557-61.

Noise in neurons is message dependent.

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Center for Studies in Physics and Biology, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021, USA.


Neuronal responses are conspicuously variable. We focus on one particular aspect of that variability: the precision of action potential timing. We show that for common models of noisy spike generation, elementary considerations imply that such variability is a function of the input, and can be made arbitrarily large or small by a suitable choice of inputs. Our considerations are expected to extend to virtually any mechanism of spike generation, and we illustrate them with data from the visual pathway. Thus, a simplification usually made in the application of information theory to neural processing is violated: noise is not independent of the message. However, we also show the existence of error-correcting topologies, which can achieve better timing reliability than their components.

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