Single neuron firing properties impact correlation-based population coding

J Neurosci. 2012 Jan 25;32(4):1413-28. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3735-11.2012.


Correlated spiking has been widely observed, but its impact on neural coding remains controversial. Correlation arising from comodulation of rates across neurons has been shown to vary with the firing rates of individual neurons. This translates into rate and correlation being equivalently tuned to the stimulus; under those conditions, correlated spiking does not provide information beyond that already available from individual neuron firing rates. Such correlations are irrelevant and can reduce coding efficiency by introducing redundancy. Using simulations and experiments in rat hippocampal neurons, we show here that pairs of neurons receiving correlated input also exhibit correlations arising from precise spike-time synchronization. Contrary to rate comodulation, spike-time synchronization is unaffected by firing rate, thus enabling synchrony- and rate-based coding to operate independently. The type of output correlation depends on whether intrinsic neuron properties promote integration or coincidence detection: "ideal" integrators (with spike generation sensitive to stimulus mean) exhibit rate comodulation, whereas ideal coincidence detectors (with spike generation sensitive to stimulus variance) exhibit precise spike-time synchronization. Pyramidal neurons are sensitive to both stimulus mean and variance, and thus exhibit both types of output correlation proportioned according to which operating mode is dominant. Our results explain how different types of correlations arise based on how individual neurons generate spikes, and why spike-time synchronization and rate comodulation can encode different stimulus properties. Our results also highlight the importance of neuronal properties for population-level coding insofar as neural networks can employ different coding schemes depending on the dominant operating mode of their constituent neurons.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Normal Distribution
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley