Temporal Coding of Visual Information in the Thalamus
The amount of information a sensory neuron carries about a stimulus is directly related to response reliability. We recorded from individual neurons in the cat lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) while presenting randomly modulated visual stimuli. The responses to repeated stimuli were reproducible, whereas the responses evoked by nonrepeated stimuli drawn from the same ensemble were variable. Stimulus-dependent information was quantified directly from the difference in entropy of these neural responses. We show that a single LGN cell can encode much more visual information than had been demonstrated previously, ranging from 15 to 102 bits/sec across our sample of cells. Information rate was correlated with the firing rate of the cell, for a consistent rate of 3.6 +/- 0.6 bits/spike (mean +/- SD). This information can primarily be attributed to the high temporal precision with which firing probability is modulated; many individual spikes were timed with better than 1 msec precision. We introduce a way to estimate the amount of information encoded in temporal patterns of firing, as distinct from the information in the time varying firing rate at any temporal resolution. Using this method, we find that temporal patterns sometimes introduce redundancy but often encode visual information. The contribution of temporal patterns ranged from [-]3.4 to +25.5 bits/sec or from [-]9.4 to +24.9% of the total information content of the responses.