Multiscale codes in the nervous system: the problem of noise correlations and the ambiguity of periodic scales

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2013 Aug;88(2):022713. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.88.022713. Epub 2013 Aug 20.


Encoding information about continuous variables using noisy computational units is a challenge; nonetheless, asymptotic theory shows that combining multiple periodic scales for coding can be highly precise despite the corrupting influence of noise [Mathis, Herz, and Stemmler, Phys. Rev. Lett. 109, 018103 (2012)]. Indeed, the cortex seems to use periodic, multiscale grid codes to represent position accurately. Here we show how such codes can be read out without taking the long-term limit; even on short time scales, the precision of such codes scales exponentially in the number N of neurons. Does this finding also hold for neurons that are not firing in a statistically independent fashion? To assess the extent to which biological grid codes are subject to statistical dependences, we first analyze the noise correlations between pairs of grid code neurons in behaving rodents. We find that if the grids of two neurons align and have the same length scale, the noise correlations between the neurons can reach values as high as 0.8. For increasing mismatches between the grids of the two neurons, the noise correlations fall rapidly. Incorporating such correlations into a population coding model reveals that the correlations lessen the resolution, but the exponential scaling of resolution with N is unaffected.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nervous System / cytology*
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Neurons / cytology