The temporal winner-take-all readout

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12 Scopus citations


How can the central nervous system make accurate decisions about external stimuli at short times on the basis of the noisy responses of nerve cell populations? It has been suggested that spike time latency is the source of fast decisions. Here, we propose a simple and fast readout mechanism, the temporal Winner-Take-All (tWTA), and undertake a study of its accuracy. The tWTA is studied in the framework of a statistical model for the dynamic response of a nerve cell population to an external stimulus. Each cell is characterized by a preferred stimulus, a unique value of the external stimulus for which it responds fastest. The tWTA estimate for the stimulus is the preferred stimulus of the cell that fired the first spike in the entire population. We then pose the questions: How accurate is the tWTA readout? What are the parameters that govern this accuracy? What are the effects of noise correlations and baseline firing? We find that tWTA sensitivity to the stimulus grows algebraically fast with the number of cells in the population, N, in contrast to the logarithmic slow scaling of the conventional rate-WTA sensitivity with N. Noise correlations in first-spike times of different cells can limit the accuracy of the tWTA readout, even in the limit of large N, similar to the effect that has been observed in population coding theory. We show that baseline firing also has a detrimental effect on tWTA accuracy. We suggest a generalization of the tWTA, the n-tWTA, which estimates the stimulus by the identity of the group of cells firing the first n spikes and show how this simple generalization can overcome the detrimental effect of baseline firing. Thus, the tWTA can provide fast and accurate responses discriminating between a small number of alternatives. High accuracy in estimation of a continuous stimulus can be obtained using the n-tWTA.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1000286
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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