This study examines the rules governing the transfer of spikes between the retina and the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) with the goal of determining whether the most informative retinal spikes preferentially drive LGN responses and what role spike timing plays in the process. By recording from monosynaptically connected pairs of retinal ganglion cells and LGN neurons in vivo in the cat, we show that relayed spikes are more likely than nonrelayed spikes to be evoked by stimuli that match the receptive fields of the recorded cells and that an interspike interval-based mechanism contributes to the process. Relayed spikes are also more reliable in their timing and number where they often achieve the theoretical limit of minimum variance. As a result, relayed spikes carry more visual information per spike. Based on these results, we conclude that retinogeniculate processing increases sparseness in the neural code by selectively relaying the highest fidelity spikes to the visual cortex.
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