Rate, not selectivity, determines neuronal population coding accuracy in auditory cortex

Wensheng Sun, Dennis L. Barbour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The notion that neurons with higher selectivity carry more information about external sensory inputs is widely accepted in neuroscience. High-selectivity neurons respond to a narrow range of sensory inputs, and thus would be considered highly informative by rejecting a large proportion of possible inputs. In auditory cortex, neuronal responses are less selective immediately after the onset of a sound and then become highly selective in the following sustained response epoch. These 2 temporal response epochs have thus been interpreted to encode first the presence and then the content of a sound input. Contrary to predictions from that prevailing theory, however, we found that the neural population conveys similar information about sound input across the 2 epochs in spite of the neuronal selectivity differences. The amount of information encoded turns out to be almost completely dependent upon the total number of population spikes in the read-out window for this system. Moreover, inhomogeneous Poisson spiking behavior is sufficient to account for this property. These results imply a novel principle of sensory encoding that is potentially shared widely among multiple sensory systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2002459
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


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