It is often supposed that the messages sent to the visual cortex by the retinal ganglion cells are encoded by the mean firing rates observed on spike trains generated with a Poisson process. Using an information transmission approach, we evaluate the performances of two such codes, one based on the spike count and the other on the mean interspike interval, and compare the results with a rank order code, where the first ganglion cells to emit a spike are given a maximal weight. Our results show that the rate codes are far from optimal for fast information transmission and that the temporal structure of the spike train can be efficiently used to maximize the information transfer rate under conditions where each cell needs to fire only one spike.

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