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Nat Neurosci. 2012 Mar 11;15(4):628-35. doi: 10.1038/nn.3064.

Decorrelation and efficient coding by retinal ganglion cells.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA.


An influential theory of visual processing asserts that retinal center-surround receptive fields remove spatial correlations in the visual world, producing ganglion cell spike trains that are less redundant than the corresponding image pixels. For bright, high-contrast images, this decorrelation would enhance coding efficiency in optic nerve fibers of limited capacity. We tested the central prediction of the theory and found that the spike trains of retinal ganglion cells were indeed decorrelated compared with the visual input. However, most of the decorrelation was accomplished not by the receptive fields, but by nonlinear processing in the retina. We found that a steep response threshold enhanced efficient coding by noisy spike trains and that the effect of this nonlinearity was near optimal in both salamander and macaque retina. These results offer an explanation for the sparseness of retinal spike trains and highlight the importance of treating the full nonlinear character of neural codes.

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