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A neuronal learning rule for sub-millisecond temporal coding

Nature volume 383, pages 7678 (05 September 1996) | Download Citation

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Abstract

A PARADOX that exists in auditory and electrosensory neural systems1,2 is that they encode behaviourally relevant signals in the range of a few microseconds with neurons that are at least one order of magnitude slower. The importance of temporal coding in neural information processing is not clear yet3–8. A central question is whether neuronal firing can be more precise than the time constants of the neuronal processes involved9. Here we address this problem using the auditory system of the barn owl as an example. We present a modelling study based on computer simulations of a neuron in the laminar nucleus. Three observations explain the paradox. First, spiking of an 'integrate-and-fire' neuron driven by excitatory postsynaptic potentials with a width at half-maximum height of 250 μs, has an accuracy of 25 μs if the presynaptic signals arrive coherently. Second, the necessary degree of coherence in the signal arrival times can be attained during ontogenetic development by virtue of an unsupervised hebbian learning rule. Learning selects connections with matching delays from a broad distribution of axons with random delays. Third, the learning rule also selects the correct delays from two independent groups of inputs, for example, from the left and right ear.

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. Physik-Department, Technische Universität; München, D-85747 Garching bei München, Germany

    • Wulfram Gerstner
    • , Richard Kempter
    •  & J. Leo van Hemmen
  2. Fakultat für Chemie und Biologie, Technische Universität; München, D-85747 Garching bei München, Germany

    • Hermann Wagner
  3. Present addresses: Ecole Polytechnique Federate de Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland (W.G.) and RWTH Aachen, Institut fur Biologie II, Kopernikusstr. 16, D-52074 Aachen, Germany (H.W.)

    • Wulfram Gerstner
    •  & Hermann Wagner

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https://doi.org/10.1038/383076a0

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