Differential receptive field organizations give rise to nearly identical neural correlations across three parallel sensory maps in weakly electric fish

PLoS Comput Biol. 2017 Sep 1;13(9):e1005716. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005716. eCollection 2017 Sep.


Understanding how neural populations encode sensory information thereby leading to perception and behavior (i.e., the neural code) remains an important problem in neuroscience. When investigating the neural code, one must take into account the fact that neural activities are not independent but are actually correlated with one another. Such correlations are seen ubiquitously and have a strong impact on neural coding. Here we investigated how differences in the antagonistic center-surround receptive field (RF) organization across three parallel sensory maps influence correlations between the activities of electrosensory pyramidal neurons. Using a model based on known anatomical differences in receptive field center size and overlap, we initially predicted large differences in correlated activity across the maps. However, in vivo electrophysiological recordings showed that, contrary to modeling predictions, electrosensory pyramidal neurons across all three segments displayed nearly identical correlations. To explain this surprising result, we incorporated the effects of RF surround in our model. By systematically varying both the RF surround gain and size relative to that of the RF center, we found that multiple RF structures gave rise to similar levels of correlation. In particular, incorporating known physiological differences in RF structure between the three maps in our model gave rise to similar levels of correlation. Our results show that RF center overlap alone does not determine correlations which has important implications for understanding how RF structure influences correlated neural activity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*