March 4, 2021

Cerebral cortical communication overshadows computational energy-use, but these combine to predict synapse number

Darwinian evolution tends to produce energy-efficient outcomes. On the other hand, energy limits computation, be it neural and probabilistic or digital and logical. Taking a particular energy-efficient viewpoint, we define neural computation and make use of an energy-constrained, computational function. This function can be optimized over a variable that is proportional to the number of synapses per neuron. This function also implies a specific distinction between ATP-consuming processes, especially computation per se vs the communication processes including action potentials and transmitter release. Thus to apply this mathematical function requires an energy audit with a partitioning of energy consumption that differs from earlier work. The audit points out that, rather than the oft-quoted 20 watts of glucose available to the brain [1], the fraction partitioned to cortical computation is only 0.1 watts of ATP. On the other hand at 3.5 watts, long-distance communication costs are 35-fold greater. Other novel quantifications include (i) a finding that the biological vs ideal values of neural computational efficiency differ by a factor of 10^8 and (ii) two predictions of N, the number of synaptic transmissions needed to fire a neuron (2500 vs 2000).

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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