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Science. 2008 Feb 22;319(5866):1108-11. doi: 10.1126/science.1149639.

Rapid neural coding in the retina with relative spike latencies.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Center for Brain Science, Harvard University, 16 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Natural vision is a highly dynamic process. Frequent body, head, and eye movements constantly bring new images onto the retina for brief periods, challenging our understanding of the neural code for vision. We report that certain retinal ganglion cells encode the spatial structure of a briefly presented image in the relative timing of their first spikes. This code is found to be largely invariant to stimulus contrast and robust to noisy fluctuations in response latencies. Mechanistically, the observed response characteristics result from different kinetics in two retinal pathways ("ON" and "OFF") that converge onto ganglion cells. This mechanism allows the retina to rapidly and reliably transmit new spatial information with the very first spikes emitted by a neural population.

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