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Letters to Nature
Nature 376, 236 - 238 (20 July 2002); doi:10.1038/376236a0

Stochastic resonance without tuning

J. J. Collins*ᤠ, Carson C. Chow* & Thomas T. Imhoff*

*NeuroMuscular Research Center,
ᤠDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, 44 Cummington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA

STOCHASTIC resonance1á¤-4 (SR) is a phenomenon wherein the response of a nonlinear system to a weak periodic input signal is optimized by the presence of a particular, non-zero level of noise5 á¤-7. SR has been proposed as a means for improving signal detection in a wide variety of systems, including superconducting quantum interference devices8, and may be used in some natural systems such as sensory neurons9á¤-15. But for SR to be effective in a singleunit system (such as a sensory neuron or a single ion channel), the optimal intensity of the noise must be adjusted as the nature of the signal to be detected changes15. This has been thought to impose a limitation on the practical and natural uses of SR. Here we show that the ability of a summing network of excitable units to detect a range of weak (sub-threshold) signals (either periodic or aperiodic) can be optimized by a fixed level of noise, irrespective of the nature of the input signal. We also show that this noise does not significantly degrade the ability of the network to detect suprathreshold signals. Thus, large nonlinear networks do not suffer from the limitations of SR in single units, and might be able to use a single noise level, such as that provided by the intrinsic noise of the individual components, to enhance the system's sensitivity to weak inputs. This suggests a functional role for neuronal noise14,16á¤-18 in sensory systems.

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