Keywords: efficient coding, retina, neuroscience, information theory
TL;DR: We show how information theory predicts when and how the retina should organize new types of visual responses to encode natural movies.
Abstract: Among the most striking features of retinal organization is the grouping of its output neurons, the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), into a diversity of functional types. Each of these types exhibits a mosaic-like organization of receptive fields (RFs) that tiles the retina and visual space. Previous work has shown that many features of RGC organization, including the existence of ON and OFF cell types, the structure of spatial RFs, and their relative arrangement, can be predicted on the basis of efficient coding theory. This theory posits that the nervous system is organized to maximize information in its encoding of stimuli while minimizing metabolic costs. Here, we use efficient coding theory to present a comprehensive account of mosaic organization in the case of natural videos as the retinal channel capacity---the number of simulated RGCs available for encoding---is varied. We show that mosaic density increases with channel capacity up to a series of critical points at which, surprisingly, new cell types emerge. Each successive cell type focuses on increasingly high temporal frequencies and integrates signals over larger spatial areas. In addition, we show theoretically and in simulation that a transition from mosaic alignment to anti-alignment across pairs of cell types is observed with increasing output noise and decreasing input noise. Together, these results offer a unified perspective on the relationship between retinal mosaics, efficient coding, and channel capacity that can help to explain the stunning functional diversity of retinal cell types.
Supplementary Material: pdf