Neural responses in sensory systems are typically triggered by a multitude of stimulus features. Using information theory, we study the encoding accuracy of a population of stochastically spiking neurons characterized by different tuning widths for the different features. The optimal encoding strategy for representing one feature most accurately consists of narrow tuning in the dimension to be encoded, to increase the single-neuron Fisher information, and broad tuning in all other dimensions, to increase the number of active neurons. Extremely narrow tuning without sufficient receptive field overlap will severely worsen the coding. This implies the existence of an optimal tuning width for the feature to be encoded. Empirically, only a subset of all stimulus features will normally be accessible. In this case, relative encoding errors can be calculated that yield a criterion for the function of a neural population based on the measured tuning curves.

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