Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, 292-303 (April 2008) | doi:10.1038/nrn2258

Noise in the nervous system

A. Aldo Faisal1, Luc P. J. Selen1 & Daniel M. Wolpert1  About the authors


Noise — random disturbances of signals — poses a fundamental problem for information processing and affects all aspects of nervous-system function. However, the nature, amount and impact of noise in the nervous system have only recently been addressed in a quantitative manner. Experimental and computational methods have shown that multiple noise sources contribute to cellular and behavioural trial-to-trial variability. We review the sources of noise in the nervous system, from the molecular to the behavioural level, and show how noise contributes to trial-to-trial variability. We highlight how noise affects neuronal networks and the principles the nervous system applies to counter detrimental effects of noise, and briefly discuss noise's potential benefits.

Author affiliations

  1. Computational and Biological Learning Lab, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1PZ, UK.

Correspondence to: A. Aldo Faisal1 Email:


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