Synchronous firing limits the amount of information that can be extracted by averaging the firing rates of similarly tuned neurons. Here, we show that the loss of such rate-coded information due to synchronous oscillations between retinal ganglion cells can be overcome by exploiting the information encoded by the correlations themselves. Two very different models, one based on axon-mediated inhibitory feedback and the other on oscillatory common input, were used to generate artificial spike trains whose synchronous oscillations were similar to those measured experimentally. Pooled spike trains were summed into a threshold detector whose output was classified using Bayesian discrimination. For a threshold detector with short summation times, realistic oscillatory input yielded superior discrimination of stimulus intensity compared to rate-matched Poisson controls. Even for summation times too long to resolve synchronous inputs, gamma band oscillations still contributed to improved discrimination by reducing the total spike count variability, or Fano factor. In separate experiments in which neurons were synchronized in a stimulus-dependent manner without attendant oscillations, the Fano factor increased markedly with stimulus intensity, implying that stimulus-dependent oscillations can offset the increased variability due to synchrony alone.

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