No evidence for active sparsification in the visual cortex

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 22 (NIPS 2009)

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Pietro Berkes, Ben White, Jozsef Fiser


The proposal that cortical activity in the visual cortex is optimized for sparse neural activity is one of the most established ideas in computational neuroscience. However, direct experimental evidence for optimal sparse coding remains inconclusive, mostly due to the lack of reference values on which to judge the measured sparseness. Here we analyze neural responses to natural movies in the primary visual cortex of ferrets at different stages of development, and of rats while awake and under different levels of anesthesia. In contrast with prediction from a sparse coding model, our data shows that population and lifetime sparseness decrease with visual experience, and increase from the awake to anesthetized state. These results suggest that the representation in the primary visual cortex is not actively optimized to maximize sparseness.