Monday, April 2, 2007

First-spike latency information in single neurons increases when referenced to population onset

Steven M. Chase, and  Eric D. Young
PNAS | March 20, 2007 | vol. 104 | no. 12 | 5175-5180

It is well known that many stimulus parameters, such as sound location in the auditory system or contrast in the visual system, can modulate the timing of the first spike in sensory neurons. Could first-spike latency be a candidate neural code? Most studies measuring first-spike latency information assume that the brain has an independent reference for stimulus onset from which to extract latency. This assumption creates an obvious confound that casts doubt on the feasibility of first-spike latency codes. If latency is measured relative to an internal reference of stimulus onset calculated from the responses of the neural population, the information conveyed by the latency of single neurons might decrease because of correlated changes in latency across the population. Here we assess the effects of a realistic model of stimulus onset detection on the first-spike latency information conveyed by single neurons in the auditory system. Contrary to expectation, we find that on average, the information contained in single neurons does not decrease; in fact, the majority of neurons show a slight increase in the information conveyed by latency referenced to a population onset. Our results show that first-spike latency codes are a feasible mechanism for information transfer even when biologically plausible estimates of stimulus onset are taken into account.

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Keywords: coding, inferior colliculus, mutual information, sound localization

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