PerspectiveNeuroscience

Parsing signal and noise in the brain

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Science  19 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6437, pp. 236-237
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax1512

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Summary

Like engineers who characterize the fidelity of signals flowing through a circuit, neuroscientists focus on quantifying the degree to which neuronal signals are “noisy” (1, 2). Engineers have the benefit of designing the system and knowing the form of the signal, making identification of corrupting noise relatively straightforward. For neuroscientists, the task is harder, as it entails figuring out first what the signal is, and only then, what the noise is. On pages 254, 253, and 255 of this issue, Gründemann et al. (3), Allen et al. (4), and Stringer et al. (5), respectively, report findings from large-scale neural recordings in the brains of mice and find brainwide activity that correlates with behavior that might usually be ignored as noise. These studies prompt reconsideration of the origin and impacts of “noise” in the nervous system.

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