Neuronal Spike Generation Mechanism as an Oversampling, Noise-shaping A-to-D converter

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)

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Dmitri Chklovskii, Daniel Soudry


We explore the hypothesis that the neuronal spike generation mechanism is an analog-to-digital converter, which rectifies low-pass filtered summed synaptic currents and encodes them into spike trains linearly decodable in post-synaptic neurons. To digitally encode an analog current waveform, the sampling rate of the spike generation mechanism must exceed its Nyquist rate. Such oversampling is consistent with the experimental observation that the precision of the spike-generation mechanism is an order of magnitude greater than the cut-off frequency of dendritic low-pass filtering. To achieve additional reduction in the error of analog-to-digital conversion, electrical engineers rely on noise-shaping. If noise-shaping were used in neurons, it would introduce correlations in spike timing to reduce low-frequency (up to Nyquist) transmission error at the cost of high-frequency one (from Nyquist to sampling rate). Using experimental data from three different classes of neurons, we demonstrate that biological neurons utilize noise-shaping. We also argue that rectification by the spike-generation mechanism may improve energy efficiency and carry out de-noising. Finally, the zoo of ion channels in neurons may be viewed as a set of predictors, various subsets of which are activated depending on the statistics of the input current.