A neural theory for counting memories

Sanjoy Dasgupta, Daisuke Hattori, Saket Navlakha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Keeping track of the number of times different stimuli have been experienced is a critical computation for behavior. Here, we propose a theoretical two-layer neural circuit that stores counts of stimulus occurrence frequencies. This circuit implements a data structure, called a count sketch, that is commonly used in computer science to maintain item frequencies in streaming data. Our first model implements a count sketch using Hebbian synapses and outputs stimulus-specific frequencies. Our second model uses anti-Hebbian plasticity and only tracks frequencies within four count categories (“1-2-3-many”), which trades-off the number of categories that need to be distinguished with the potential ethological value of those categories. We show how both models can robustly track stimulus occurrence frequencies, thus expanding the traditional novelty-familiarity memory axis from binary to discrete with more than two possible values. Finally, we show that an implementation of the “1-2-3-many” count sketch exists in the insect mushroom body.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5961
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • General
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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