Limitations of neural map topography for decoding spatial information

Lilach Avitan, Zac Pujic, Nicholas J. Hughes, Ethan K. Scott, Geoffrey J. Goodhill*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Topographic maps are common throughout the nervous system, yet their functional role is still unclear. In particular, whether they are necessary for decoding sensory stimuli is unknown. Here we examined this question by recording population activity at the cellular level from the larval zebrafish tectum in response to visual stimuli at three closely spaced locations in the visual field. Due to map imprecision, nearby stimulus locations produced intermingled tectal responses, and decoding based on map topography yielded an accuracy of only 64%. In contrast, maximum likelihood decoding of stimulus location based on the statistics of the evoked activity, while ignoring any information about the locations of neurons in the map, yielded an accuracy close to 100%.Asimple computational model of the zebrafish visual system reproduced these results. Although topography is a useful initial decoding strategy, we suggest it may be replaced by better methods following visual experience.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)5385-5396
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number19
StatePublished - 11 May 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 the authors.


  • Computational model
  • Sensory decoding
  • Topographic map
  • Zebrafish


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