There is emerging evidence that individual sensory neurons in the rodent brain rely on temporal features of the discharge pattern to code differences in taste quality information. In contrast, investigations of individual sensory neurons in the periphery have focused on analysis of spike rate and mostly disregarded spike timing as a taste quality coding mechanism. The purpose of this work was to determine the contribution of spike timing to taste quality coding by rat geniculate ganglion neurons using computational methods that have been applied successfully in other systems. We recorded the discharge patterns of narrowly tuned and broadly tuned neurons in the rat geniculate ganglion to representatives of the five basic taste qualities. We used mutual information to determine significant responses and the van Rossum metric to characterize their temporal features. While our findings show that spike timing contributes a significant part of the message, spike rate contributes the largest portion of the message relayed by afferent neurons from rat fungiform taste buds to the brain. Thus, spike rate and spike timing together are more effective than spike rate alone in coding stimulus quality information to a single basic taste in the periphery for both narrowly tuned specialist and broadly tuned generalist neurons.
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