Error-Robust Modes of the Retinal Population Code.
Across the nervous system, certain population spiking patterns are observed far more frequently than others. A hypothesis about this structure is that these collective activity patterns function as population codewords-collective modes-carrying information distinct from that of any single cell. We investigate this phenomenon in recordings of ∼150 retinal ganglion cells, the retina's output. We develop a novel statistical model that decomposes the population response into modes; it predicts the distribution of spiking activity in the ganglion cell population with high accuracy. We found that the modes represent localized features of the visual stimulus that are distinct from the features represented by single neurons. Modes form clusters of activity states that are readily discriminated from one another. When we repeated the same visual stimulus, we found that the same mode was robustly elicited. These results suggest that retinal ganglion cells' collective signaling is endowed with a form of error-correcting code-a principle that may hold in brain areas beyond retina.