It is commonly assumed that the brain’s neural coding strategies are adapted to the statistics of natural stimuli. Specifically, to maximize information transmission, a sensory neuron’s tuning function should effectively oppose the decaying stimulus spectral power, such that the neural response is temporally decorrelated (i.e. ‘whitened’). However, theory predicts that the structure of neuronal variability also plays an essential role in determining how coding is optimized. Here, we provide experimental evidence supporting this view by recording from neurons in early vestibular pathways during naturalistic self-motion. We found that central vestibular neurons displayed temporally whitened responses that could not be explained by their tuning alone. Rather, computational modeling and analysis revealed that neuronal variability and tuning were matched to effectively complement natural stimulus statistics, thereby achieving temporal decorrelation and optimizing information transmission. Taken together, our findings reveal a novel strategy by which neural variability contributes to optimized processing of naturalistic stimuli.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)