In 1969 Barlow introduced the phrase “economy of impulses” to express the tendency for successive neural systems to use lower and lower levels of cell firings to produce equivalent encodings. From this viewpoint, the ultimate economy of impulses is a neural code of minimal redundancy. The hypothesis motivating our research is that energy expenditures, e.g., the metabolic cost of recovering from an action potential relative to the cost of inactivity, should also be factored into the economy of impulses. In fact, coding schemes with the largest representational capacity are not, in general, optimal when energy expenditures are taken into account. We show that for both binary and analog neurons, increased energy expenditure per neuron implies a decrease in average firing rate if energy efficient information transmission is to be maintained.

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