Balazs Ujfalussy, Máté Lengyel
Computational analyses of dendritic computations often assume stationary inputs to neurons, ignoring the pulsatile nature of spike-based communication between neurons and the moment-to-moment fluctuations caused by such spiking inputs. Conversely, circuit computations with spiking neurons are usually formalized without regard to the rich nonlinear nature of dendritic processing. Here we address the computational challenge faced by neurons that compute and represent analogue quantities but communicate with digital spikes, and show that reliable computation of even purely linear functions of inputs can require the interplay of strongly nonlinear subunits within the postsynaptic dendritic tree. Our theory predicts a matching of dendritic nonlinearities and synaptic weight distributions to the joint statistics of presynaptic inputs. This approach suggests normative roles for some puzzling forms of nonlinear dendritic dynamics and plasticity.