Integrator circuits in the brain show persistent firing that reflects the sum of previous excitatory and inhibitory inputs from external sources. Integrator circuits have been implicated in parametric working memory, decision making and motor control. Previous work has shown that stable integrator function can be achieved by an excitatory recurrent neural circuit, provided synaptic strengths are tuned with extreme precision (better than 1% accuracy). Here we show that integrator circuits can function without fine tuning if the neuronal units have bistable properties. Two specific mechanisms of bistability are analyzed, one based on local recurrent excitation, and the other on the voltage-dependence of the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) channel. Neither circuit requires fine tuning to perform robust integration, and the latter actually exploits the variability of neuronal conductances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-782
Number of pages8
JournalNature neuroscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2002


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