Optimal neural rate coding leads to bimodal firing rate distributions

Network. 2003 May;14(2):303-19.


Many experimental studies concerning the neuronal code are based on graded responses of neurons, given by the emitted number of spikes measured in a certain time window. Correspondingly, a large body of neural network theory deals with analogue neuron models and discusses their potential use for computation or function approximation. All physical signals, however, are of limited precision, and neuronal firing rates in cortex are relatively low. Here, we investigate the relevance of analogue signal processing with spikes in terms of optimal stimulus reconstruction and information theory. In particular, we derive optimal tuning functions taking the biological constraint of limited firing rates into account. It turns out that depending on the available decoding time T, optimal encoding undergoes a phase transition from discrete binary coding for small T towards analogue or quasi-analogue encoding for large T. The corresponding firing rate distributions are bimodal for all relevant T, in particular in the case of population coding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*