Universality and Individuality in a Neural Code

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 13 (NIPS 2000)

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Elad Schneidman, Naama Brenner, Naftali Tishby, Robert van Steveninck, William Bialek


The problem of neural coding is to understand how sequences of action potentials (spikes) are related to sensory stimuli, motor out(cid:173) puts, or (ultimately) thoughts and intentions. One clear question is whether the same coding rules are used by different neurons, or by corresponding neurons in different individuals. We present a quantitative formulation of this problem using ideas from informa(cid:173) tion theory, and apply this approach to the analysis of experiments in the fly visual system. We find significant individual differences in the structure of the code, particularly in the way that tempo(cid:173) ral patterns of spikes are used to convey information beyond that available from variations in spike rate. On the other hand, all the flies in our ensemble exhibit a high coding efficiency, so that every spike carries the same amount of information in all the individuals. Thus the neural code has a quantifiable mixture of individuality and universality.