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Physiol Behav. 2000 Apr 1-15;69(1-2):187-201.

Patterns in the brain. Neuronal population coding in the somatosensory system.

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Department of Surgery, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta 30912, USA.


The aim of this article is to review some basic principles of neural coding, with an emphasis on mechanisms of stimulus representation in ensembles of neurons. The theory of "across-neuron response patterns" (ANRPs), first suggested by Thomas Young (1802) and fully developed by Robert Erickson (1963-2000), is summarized and applied to the problem of coding in primary afferent fibers and cortical neurons of the somatosensory system. The basic premise of the theory is that precise information about stimulus features cannot be encoded by single neurons, but is encoded by patterns of activity across populations of neurons. Different stimuli produce uniquely different patterns of ensemble activity (ANRPs)-discrimination between two stimuli is based on the absolute difference in total amount of activity (neural mass difference) of the ANRPs for those stimuli. Review of the literature shows that ANRPs and related population codes can accurately represent and differentiate among various stimulus parameters that cannot be distinguished by single neurons alone. Finally, the behavior of neuronal ensembles can be used to account for the sensory-perceptual changes associated with plasticity of thalamocortical circuits following selective sensorimotor deprivation or experience.

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