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This article is part of the supplement: Twenty First Annual Computational Neuroscience Meeting: CNS*2012

Open Access Open Badges Oral presentation

Parallel coding of first and second order stimulus attributes

Patrick McGillivray1, Katrin Vonderschen1, Eric S Fortune234 and Maurice J Chacron15*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Physiology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

2 Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

3 Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

4 Museum of Zoology, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador

5 Department of Physics, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13(Suppl 1):O13  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-S1-O13

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published:16 July 2012

© 2012 McGillivray et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Oral presentation

Natural stimuli often have time varying first (i.e. mean) and second order (i.e. variance) attributes that each carry critical information for perception and can vary independently over orders of magnitude. We recorded the responses of midbrain electrosensory neurons in the weakly electric fish Apteronotus leptorhynchus to stimuli with first and second order attributes that varied independently in time. We found two distinct groups of midbrain neurons: the first group responded to both first and second order attributes while the other responded selectively to second order attributes. Using computational analyses, we show how inputs from a heterogeneous population of ON- and OFF-type afferent neurons are combined in order to give rise to response selectivity to second order stimulus attributes in midbrain neurons. Our study thus uncovers, for the first time, generic and widely applicable mechanisms by which selectivity to second order stimulus attributes emerges in the brain.