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J Neurosci. 2013 Jan 30;33(5):2108-20. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3449-12.2013.

Adaptation improves neural coding efficiency despite increasing correlations in variability.

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School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia.


Exposure of cortical cells to sustained sensory stimuli results in changes in the neuronal response function. This phenomenon, known as adaptation, is a common feature across sensory modalities. Here, we quantified the functional effect of adaptation on the ensemble activity of cortical neurons in the rat whisker-barrel system. A multishank array of electrodes was used to allow simultaneous sampling of neuronal activity. We characterized the response of neurons to sinusoidal whisker vibrations of varying amplitude in three states of adaptation. The adaptors produced a systematic rightward shift in the neuronal response function. Consistently, mutual information revealed that peak discrimination performance was not aligned to the adaptor but to test amplitudes 3-9 μm higher. Stimulus presentation reduced single neuron trial-to-trial response variability (captured by Fano factor) and correlations in the population response variability (noise correlation). We found that these two types of variability were inversely proportional to the average firing rate regardless of the adaptation state. Adaptation transferred the neuronal operating regime to lower rates with higher Fano factor and noise correlations. Noise correlations were positive and in the direction of signal, and thus detrimental to coding efficiency. Interestingly, across all population sizes, the net effect of adaptation was to increase the total information despite increasing the noise correlation between neurons.

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