How do neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) encode the contrast of a visual stimulus? In this paper, the information that V1 responses convey about the contrast of static visual stimuli is explicitly calculated. These responses often contain several easily distinguished temporal components, which will be called latency, transient, tonic, and off. Calculating the information about contrast conveyed in each component and in groups of components makes it possible to delineate aspects of the temporal structure that may be relevant for contrast encoding. The results indicate that as much or more contrast-related information is encoded into the temporal structure of spike train responses as into the firing rate and that the temporally coded information is manifested most strongly in the latency to response onset. Transient, tonic, and off responses contribute relatively little. The results also reveal that temporal coding is important for distinguishing subtle contrast differences, whereas firing rates are useful for gross discrimination. This suggests that the temporal structure of neurons' responses may extend the dynamic range for contrast encoding in the primate visual system.
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