Rate coding versus temporal order coding: a theoretical approach

Biosystems. Sep-Dec 1998;48(1-3):57-65. doi: 10.1016/s0303-2647(98)00050-1.


The belief that neurones transmit information in the form of a firing rate code is almost universal. However, we argue that at least in some situations, the efficiency of a coding strategy based on rate coding is surprisingly poor. A simple mathematical analysis reveals that, due to the stochastic nature of spike generation, even transmitting the simplest signals reliably would require either: (1) excessively long observation periods incompatible with the speed of sensory processing or (2) excessively large numbers of redundant neurones, incompatible with the anatomical constraints imposed by sensory pathways. We argue that such problems may be avoided by using alternative temporal codes which rely on the asynchrony of firing across a population of afferent neurones.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Time