How Can Single Sensory Neurons Predict Behavior?

Xaq Pitkow, Sheng Liu, Dora E. Angelaki, Gregory C. DeAngelis, Alexandre Pouget

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Single sensory neurons can be surprisingly predictive of behavior in discrimination tasks. We propose this ispossible because sensory information extracted from neural populations is severely restricted, either by near-optimal decoding of a population with information-limiting correlations or by suboptimal decoding that is blind to correlations. These have different consequences for choice correlations, the correlations between neural responses and behavioral choices. In the vestibular and cerebellar nuclei and the dorsal medial superior temporal area, we found that choice correlations during heading discrimination are consistent with near-optimal decoding ofneuronal responses corrupted by information-limiting correlations. In the ventral intraparietal area, the choice correlations are also consistent with the presence of information-limiting correlations, but this area does not appear to influence behavior, although the choice correlations are particularly large. These findings demonstrate how choice correlations can be used to assess the efficiency of the downstream readout and detect the presence of information-limiting correlations. The activity of just one sensory neuron in the brain often accurately predicts what an animal will perceive in simple tests. Pitkow etal. provide a new theory of why this happens, and offer experimental data that support their theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-423
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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