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  • Oral presentation
  • Open Access

Parallel coding of first and second order stimulus attributes

  • Patrick McGillivray1,
  • Katrin Vonderschen1,
  • Eric S Fortune2, 3, 4 and
  • Maurice J Chacron1, 5Email author
BMC Neuroscience201213(Suppl 1):O13

Published: 16 July 2012


Animal ModelCritical InformationAfferent NeuronDistinct GroupComputational Analysis

Natural stimuli often have time varying first (i.e. mean) and second order (i.e. variance) attributes that each carry critical information for perception and can vary independently over orders of magnitude. We recorded the responses of midbrain electrosensory neurons in the weakly electric fish Apteronotus leptorhynchus to stimuli with first and second order attributes that varied independently in time. We found two distinct groups of midbrain neurons: the first group responded to both first and second order attributes while the other responded selectively to second order attributes. Using computational analyses, we show how inputs from a heterogeneous population of ON- and OFF-type afferent neurons are combined in order to give rise to response selectivity to second order stimulus attributes in midbrain neurons. Our study thus uncovers, for the first time, generic and widely applicable mechanisms by which selectivity to second order stimulus attributes emerges in the brain.

Authors’ Affiliations

Department of Physiology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA
Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA
Museum of Zoology, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador
Department of Physics, McGill University, Montreal, Canada


© McGillivray et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.