Herikstad R, Baker J, Lachaux JP, Gray CM, Yen SC (2011). Natural movies evoke spike trains with low spike time variability in cat primary visual cortex. J Neuroscience, 31:15844-15860.

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Neuronal responses in primary visual cortex have been found to be highly variable. This has led to the widespread notion that neuronal responses have to be averaged over large numbers of neurons to obtain suitably invariant responses that can be used to reliably encode or represent external stimuli. However, it is possible that the high variability of neuronal responses may result from the use of simple, artificial stimuli and that the visual cortex may respond differently to dynamic, naturalistic images. To investigate this question, we recorded the responses of primary visual cortical neurons in the anesthetized cat under stimulation with time-varying natural movies. We found that cortical neurons on the whole exhibited a high degree of spike count variability, but a surprisingly low degree of spike time variability. The spike count variability was further reduced when all but the first spike in a burst were removed. We also found that responses exhibiting low spike time variability exhibited low spike count variability, suggesting that rate coding and temporal coding might be more compatible than previously thought. In addition, we found the spike time variability to be significantly lower when stimulated by natural movies as compared with stimulation using drifting gratings. Our results indicate that response variability in primary visual cortex is stimulus dependent and significantly lower than previous measurements have indicated.