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J Neurosci. 2019 Oct 30;39(44):8664-8678. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0141-19.2019. Epub 2019 Sep 13.

Adaptive Efficient Coding of Correlated Acoustic Properties.

Author information

Institute for Systems Research.
Institute for Systems Research,
Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20740, and.
Department of Cognitive Studies, Ecole Normale Superieure, 75005 Paris, France.


Natural sounds such as vocalizations often have covarying acoustic attributes, resulting in redundancy in neural coding. The efficient coding hypothesis proposes that sensory systems are able to detect such covariation and adapt to reduce redundancy, leading to more efficient neural coding. Recent psychoacoustic studies have shown the auditory system can rapidly adapt to efficiently encode two covarying dimensions as a single dimension, following passive exposure to sounds in which temporal and spectral attributes covaried in a correlated fashion. However, these studies observed a cost to this adaptation, which was a loss of sensitivity to the orthogonal dimension. Here we explore the neural basis of this psychophysical phenomenon by recording single-unit responses from the primary auditory cortex in awake ferrets exposed passively to stimuli with two correlated attributes, similar in stimulus design to the psychoacoustic experiments in humans. We found: (1) the signal-to-noise ratio of spike-rate coding of cortical responses driven by sounds with correlated attributes remained unchanged along the exposure dimension, but was reduced along the orthogonal dimension; (2) performance of a decoder trained with spike data to discriminate stimuli along the orthogonal dimension was equally reduced; (3) correlations between neurons tuned to the two covarying attributes decreased after exposure; and (4) these exposure effects still occurred if sounds were correlated along two acoustic dimensions, but varied randomly along a third dimension. These neurophysiological results are consistent with the efficient coding hypothesis and may help deepen our understanding of how the auditory system encodes and represents acoustic regularities and covariance.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The efficient coding (EC) hypothesis (Attneave, 1954; Barlow, 1961) proposes that the neural code in sensory systems efficiently encodes natural stimuli by minimizing the number of spikes to transmit a sensory signal. Results of recent psychoacoustic studies in humans are consistent with the EC hypothesis in that, following passive exposure to stimuli with correlated attributes, the auditory system rapidly adapts so as to more efficiently encode the two covarying dimensions as a single dimension. In the current neurophysiological experiments, using a similar stimulus design and the experimental paradigm to the psychoacoustic studies of Stilp et al. (2010) and Stilp and Kluender (2011, 2012, 2016), we recorded responses from single neurons in the auditory cortex of the awake ferret, showing adaptive efficient neural coding of two correlated acoustic attributes.


auditory cortex; efficient coding; ferret; single-unit

[Available on 2020-04-30]

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