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.
In this document, we explore in more detail our published work (Komorowski, Celi, Badawi, Gordon, & Faisal, 2018) for the benefit of the AI in Healthcare research community. In the above paper, we developed the AI Clinician system, which demonstrated how reinforcement learning could be used to make useful recommendations towards optimal treatment decisions from intensive care data. Since publication a number of authors have reviewed our work (e.g.
The action potential (AP) is transmitted by the concerted action of voltage-gated ion channels. Thermodynamic fluctuations in channel proteins produce probabilistic gating behavior, causing channel noise. Miniaturizing signaling systems increases susceptibility to noise, and with many cortical, cerebellar, and peripheral axons <0.5 mum diameter [1, 2 and 3], channel noise could be significant [4 and 5]. Using biophysical theory and stochastic simulations, we investigated channel-noise limits in unmyelinated axons. Axons of diameter below 0.1 microm become inoperable because single, spontaneously opening Na channels generate spontaneous AP at rates that disrupt communication. This limiting diameter is relatively insensitive to variations in biophysical parameters (e.g., channel properties and density, membrane conductance and leak) and will apply to most spiking axons. We demonstrate that the essential molecular machinery can, in theory, fit into 0.06 microm diameter axons. However, a comprehensive survey of anatomical data shows a lower limit for AP-conducting axons of 0.08-0.1 microm diameter. Thus, molecular fluctuations constrain the wiring density of brains. Fluctuations have implications for epilepsy and neuropathic pain because changes in channel kinetics or axonal properties can change the rate at which channel noise generates spontaneous activity.
In this Comment, we provide guidelines for reinforcement learning for patient treatment decisions that we hope will accelerate the rate at which observational cohorts can inform healthcare practice in a safe, risk-conscious manner.
It is generally assumed that axons use action potentials (APs) to transmit information fast and reliably to synapses. Yet, the reliability of transmission along fibers below 0.5 μm diameter, such as cortical and cerebellar axons, is unknown. Using detailed models of rodent cortical and squid axons and stochastic simulations, we show how conduction along such thin axons is affected by the probabilistic nature of voltage-gated ion channels (channel noise). We identify four distinct effects that corrupt propagating spike trains in thin axons: spikes were added, deleted, jittered, or split into groups depending upon the temporal pattern of spikes. Additional APs may appear spontaneously; however, APs in general seldom fail (<1%). Spike timing is jittered on the order of milliseconds over distances of millimeters, as conduction velocity fluctuates in two ways. First, variability in the number of Na channels opening in the early rising phase of the AP cause propagation speed to fluctuate gradually. Second, a novel mode of AP propagation (stochastic microsaltatory conduction), where the AP leaps ahead toward spontaneously formed clusters of open Na channels, produces random discrete jumps in spike time reliability. The combined effect of these two mechanisms depends on the pattern of spikes. Our results show that axonal variability is a general problem and should be taken into account when considering both neural coding and the reliability of synaptic transmission in densely connected cortical networks, where small synapses are typically innervated by thin axons. In contrast we find that thicker axons above 0.5 μm diameter are reliable.
Neurocognitive considerations to the embodiment of technologyThe increasing integration of wearable technologies with the human body raises neural and cognitive challenges and opportunities.
Internal states can profoundly alter the behavior of animals. A quantitative understanding of the behavioral changes upon metabolic challenges is key to a mechanistic dissection of how animals maintain nutritional homeostasis. We used an automated video tracking setup to characterize how amino acid and reproductive states interact to shape exploitation and exploration decisions taken by adult Drosophila melanogaster. We find that these two states have specific effects on the decisions to stop at and leave proteinaceous food patches. Furthermore, the internal nutrient state defines the exploration-exploitation trade-off: nutrient-deprived flies focus on specific patches while satiated flies explore more globally. Finally, we show that olfaction mediates the efficient recognition of yeast as an appropriate protein source in mated females and that octopamine is specifically required to mediate homeostatic postmating responses without affecting internal nutrient sensing. Internal states therefore modulate specific aspects of exploitation and exploration to change nutrient selection.DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.19920.001
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