Degeneracy in hippocampal physiology and plasticity

Rahul K. Rathour, Rishikesh Narayanan

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/Debate


Degeneracy, defined as the ability of structurally disparate elements to perform analogous function, has largely been assessed from the perspective of maintaining robustness of physiology or plasticity. How does the framework of degeneracy assimilate into an encoding system where the ability to change is an essential ingredient for storing new incoming information? Could degeneracy maintain the balance between the apparently contradictory goals of the need to change for encoding and the need to resist change towards maintaining homeostasis? In this review, we explore these fundamental questions with the mammalian hippocampus as an example encoding system. We systematically catalog lines of evidence, spanning multiple scales of analysis that point to the expression of degeneracy in hippocampal physiology and plasticity. We assess the potential of degeneracy as a framework to achieve the conjoint goals of encoding and homeostasis without cross-interferences. We postulate that biological complexity, involving interactions among the numerous parameters spanning different scales of analysis, could establish disparate routes towards accomplishing these conjoint goals. These disparate routes then provide several degrees of freedom to the encoding-homeostasis system in accomplishing its tasks in an input- and state-dependent manner. Finally, the expression of degeneracy spanning multiple scales offers an ideal reconciliation to several outstanding controversies, through the recognition that the seemingly contradictory disparate observations are merely alternate routes that the system might recruit towards accomplishment of its goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)980-1022
Number of pages43
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors. Hippocampus published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • causality
  • compensation
  • Degeneracy
  • encoding
  • holism
  • homeostasis
  • learning
  • memory
  • reductionism
  • structure-function relationships
  • variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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