Paradoxical Rules of Spike Train Decoding Revealed at the Sensitivity Limit of Vision

Lina Smeds, Daisuke Takeshita, Tuomas Turunen, Jussi Tiihonen, Johan Westö, Nataliia Martyniuk, Aarni Seppänen, Petri Ala-Laurila*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


All sensory information is encoded in neural spike trains. It is unknown how the brain utilizes this neural code to drive behavior. Here, we unravel the decoding rules of the brain at the most elementary level by linking behavioral decisions to retinal output signals in a single-photon detection task. A transgenic mouse line allowed us to separate the two primary retinal outputs, ON and OFF pathways, carrying information about photon absorptions as increases and decreases in spiking, respectively. We measured the sensitivity limit of rods and the most sensitive ON and OFF ganglion cells and correlated these results with visually guided behavior using markerless head and eye tracking. We show that behavior relies only on the ON pathway even when the OFF pathway would allow higher sensitivity. Paradoxically, behavior does not rely on the spike code with maximal information but instead relies on a decoding strategy based on increases in spiking. Smeds et al. combine retinal ganglion cell recordings with markerless tracking of mouse behavior in photon detection. They show that behavior relies on information presented as increased spiking activity rather than the spike code carrying the maximal information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-587.e11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • ganglion cell
  • neural circuit
  • neural coding
  • ON and OFF pathways
  • photon detection
  • retina
  • scotopic vision
  • sensory threshold
  • tracking behavior
  • visually guided behavior


Dive into the research topics of 'Paradoxical Rules of Spike Train Decoding Revealed at the Sensitivity Limit of Vision'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this