Neuroscientists decipher brain’s noisy code

By analyzing the signals of individual neurons in animals undergoing behavioral tests, neuroscientists at Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Geneva and the University of Rochester have deciphered the code the brain uses to make the most of its inherently “noisy” neuronal circuits.

“If the brain could always count on receiving the same sensory response to the same stimulus, it would have an easier time,” said neuroscientist Xaq Pitkow, lead author of a new study this week in Neuron. “But noise is always there in the brain: studies have repeatedly shown that neurons give a variety of responses to the same stimulus.”

These green and purple hills represent the average activity for many neurons in two different brain regions. These neuronal activity patterns will differ from time to time, even in response to exactly the same sensory stimulus, and those differences set the limit for how well the brain can sense things. Credit: Xaq Pitkow/Rice University