Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 132, Issue 1, pp 27–39 | Cite as

What can neurons do for their brain? Communicate selectivity with bursts

  • David BalduzziEmail author
  • Giulio Tononi
Original Paper


Neurons deep in cortex interact with the environment extremely indirectly; the spikes they receive and produce are pre- and post-processed by millions of other neurons. This paper proposes two information-theoretic constraints guiding the production of spikes, that help ensure bursting activity deep in cortex relates meaningfully to events in the environment. First, neurons should emphasize selective responses with bursts. Second, neurons should propagate selective inputs by burst-firing in response to them. We show the constraints are necessary for bursts to dominate information-transfer within cortex, thereby providing a substrate allowing neurons to distribute credit amongst themselves. Finally, since synaptic plasticity degrades the ability of neurons to burst selectively, we argue that homeostatic regulation of synaptic weights is necessary, and that it is best performed offline during sleep.


Selectivity Synaptic plasticity Information theory Credit assignment 



We thank Michel Besserve for useful comments and Theorem 1. Supported in part by NIH Director’s Pioneer Award and Conte Center National Institute of Mental Health (P20MH077967) to GT, and by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Sciences Office (DSO), Program: Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Empirical InferenceMax Planck Institute for Intelligent SystemsTuebingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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