question: job of a neuron

Matt Jones jonesmat at physiology.wisc.edu
Tue Sep 4 10:01:20 EST 2001

In article <k8Wk7.11271$zj5.3352301 at typhoon.ne.mediaone.net> Mark
Zarella, markzarella at mediaone.net writes:

> But, unless I'm mistaken, the
>question was about the job of *a* neuron, not a network.  That's like
>what a slab of silicon or a hunk of copper does. 

In article <13l7pt48fuq61u4anjjs7k23cpaehedveo at 4ax.com> Richard 
Norman, rsnorman at mediaone.net writes:
> But point
>to a random arbitrary spot of the cerebral cortex and select one of
>the ten thousand neurons in any cubic millimeter and try to say just
>what the "job" of that one cell is. 


Yes, the original question was this:

In article <9mroi3$3pcpu$1 at ID-40201.news.dfncis.de> Wolfram,
remove_this!helbrecht at gmx.net writes:
>Has yet someone figured out _what_ a neuron does, i.e. what its
>task is?

What is the task of -a neuron-. Not the Mauthner cell, not the VD
cell, not a hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cell, but a "generic" nameless,
faceless neuron, with no other context taken into consideration.

Suppose the question had been "What is the task of a chair leg?"

Would we have debated -which- particular chair leg he was asking
about? Would we have suggested that the question was meaningless
without taking into account which -building- the chair was in. Or said
that a chair leg in the House of Lords performs a different task than
a chair leg in a kindergarten classroom?

No. We wouldn't. We would have given a simple answer, applicable to
-any- chair leg: "The task of a chair leg is to hold up the chair, so
you don't fall on your butt."

Similar answers exist for neurons. The question does not require
knowledge of the specifics of any particular circuit or behavior (in
fact I'm sure these issues just distract from what Wolfram really
wants to know).

The task of a neuron is to move a signal from point A to point B,
while possibly performing some sort of operation or transformation on
the signal as it goes through. Every neuron in every circuit during
every behavior performs -this- task. Further, this task is -not-
performed by every other type of living cell (but certainly a few
other types). Therefore, -this- task appears to be a special chore
undertaken by neurons, but not most other cell types.



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