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Deciphering a neural code for vision

By Christopher Passaglia, Frederick Dodge, Erik Herzog, Scott Jackson and Robert Barlow


Deciphering the information that eyes, ears, and other sensory organs transmit to the brain is important for understanding the neural basis of behavior. Recordings from single sensory nerve cells have yielded useful insights, but single neurons generally do not mediate behavior; networks of neurons do. Monitoring the activity of all cells in a neural network of a behaving animal, however, is not yet possible. Taking an alternative approach, we used a realistic cell-based model to compute the ensemble of neural activity generated by one sensory organ, the lateral eye of the horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus. We studied how the neural network of this eye encodes natural scenes by presenting to the model movies recorded with a video camera mounted above the eye of an animal that was exploring its underwater habitat. Model predictions were confirmed by simultaneously recording responses from single optic nerve fibers of the same animal. We report here that the eye transmits to the brain robust “neural images” of objects having the size, contrast, and motion of potential mates. The neural code for such objects is not found in ambiguous messages of individual optic nerve fibers but rather in patterns of coherent activity that extend over small ensembles of nerve fibers and are bound together by stimulus motion. Integrative properties of neurons in the first synaptic layer of the brain appear well suited to detecting the patterns of coherent activity. Neural coding by this relatively simple eye helps explain how horseshoe crabs find mates and may lead to a better understanding of how more complex sensory organs process information

Topics: Biological Sciences
Publisher: The National Academy of Sciences of the USA
Year: 1997
DOI identifier: 10.1073/pnas.94.23.12649
OAI identifier:
Provided by: PubMed Central
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