Decoding visual information from a population of retinal ganglion cells

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Nov;78(5):2336-50. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.78.5.2336.


Decoding visual information from a population of retinal ganglion cells. J. Neurophysiol. 78: 2336-2350, 1997. This work investigates how a time-dependent visual stimulus is encoded by the collective activity of many retinal ganglion cells. Multiple ganglion cell spike trains were recorded simultaneously from the isolated retina of the tiger salamander using a multielectrode array. The stimulus consisted of photopic, spatially uniform, temporally broadband flicker. From the recorded spike trains, an estimate was obtained of the stimulus intensity as a function of time. This was compared with the actual stimulus to assess the quality and quantity of visual information conveyed by the ganglion cell population. Two algorithms were used to decode the spike trains: an optimized linear filter in which each action potential made an additive contribution to the stimulus estimate and an artificial neural network trained by back-propagation to match spike trains with stimuli. The two methods performed indistinguishably, suggesting that most of the information about this stimulus can be extracted by linear operations on the spike trains. Individual ganglion cells conveyed information at a rate of 3.2 +/- 1.7 bits/s (mean +/- SD), with an average information content per spike of 1.6 bits. The maximal possible rate of information transmission compatible with the measured spiking statistics was 13.9 +/- 6.3 bits/s. On average, ganglion cells used 22% of this capacity to encode visual information. When a decoder received two spike trains of the same response type, the reconstruction improved only marginally over that obtained from a single cell. However, a decoder using an ON and an OFF cell extracted as much information as the sum of that obtained from each cell alone.Thus cells of opposite response type encode different and nonoverlapping features of the stimulus. As more spike trains were provided to the decoder, the total information rate rapidly saturated, with 79% of the maximal value obtained from a local cluster of just four neurons of different functional types. The decoding filter applied to a given neuron's spikes within such a multiunit decoder differed substantially from the filter applied to that same neuron in a single-unit decoder. This shows that the optimal interpretation of a ganglion cell's action potential depends strongly on the simultaneous activity of other nearby cells. The quality of the stimulus reconstruction varied greatly with frequency: flicker components below 1 Hz and above 10 Hz were reconstructed poorly, and the performance was optimal near 2.5 Hz. Further analysis suggests that temporal encoding by ganglion cell spike trains is limited by slow phototransduction in the cone photoreceptors and a corrupting noise source proximal to the cones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Algorithms
  • Ambystoma
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Entropy
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Larva
  • Models, Neurological
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*