Implicit encoding of prior probabilities in optimal neural populations[PDF] [BibTeX]
Optimal coding provides a guiding principle for understanding the representation of sensory variables in neural populations. Here we consider the influence of a prior probability distribution over sensory variables on the optimal allocation of cells and spikes in a neural population. We model the spikes of each cell as samples from an independent Poisson process with rate governed by an associated tuning curve. For this response model, we approximate the Fisher information in terms of the density and amplitude of the tuning curves, under the assumption that tuning width varies inversely with cell density. We consider a family of objective functions based on the expected value, over the sensory prior, of a functional of the Fisher information. This family includes lower bounds on mutual information and perceptual discriminability as special cases. In all cases, we find a closed form expression for the optimum, in which the density and gain of the cells in the population are power law functions of the stimulus prior. This also implies a power law relationship between the prior and perceptual discriminability. We show preliminary evidence that the theory successfully predicts the relationship between empirically measured stimulus priors, physiologically measured neural response properties (cell density, tuning widths, and firing rates), and psychophysically measured discrimination thresholds.