The role of spike timing in the coding of stimulus location in rat somatosensory cortex

Neuron
Stefano PanzeriM E Diamond

Abstract

Although the timing of single spikes is known to code for time-varying features of a sensory stimulus, it remains unclear whether time is also exploited in the neuronal coding of the spatial structure of the environment, where nontemporal stimulus features are fundamental. This report demonstrates that, in the whisker representation of rat cortex, precise spike timing of single neurons increases the information transmitted about stimulus location by 44%, compared to that transmitted only by the total number of spikes. Crucial to this code is the timing of the first spike after whisker movement. Complex, single neuron spike patterns play a smaller, synergistic role. Timing permits very few spikes to transmit high quantities of information about a behaviorally significant, spatial stimulus.

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