Recently, a statistical signal-processing technique has allowed the information carried by single spike trains of sensory neurons on time-varying stimuli to be characterized quantitatively in a variety of preparations. In weakly electric fish, its application to first-order sensory neurons encoding electric field amplitude (P-receptor afferents) showed that they convey accurate information on temporal modulations in a behaviorally relevant frequency range (<80 Hz). At the next stage of the electrosensory pathway (the electrosensory lateral line lobe, ELL), the information sampled by first-order neurons is used to extract upstrokes and downstrokes in the amplitude modulation waveform. By using signal-detection techniques, we determined that these temporal features are explicitly represented by short spike bursts of second-order neurons (ELL pyramidal cells). Our results suggest that the biophysical mechanism underlying this computation is of dendritic origin. We also investigated the accuracy with which upstrokes and downstrokes are encoded across two of the three somatotopic body maps of the ELL (centromedial and lateral). Pyramidal cells of the centromedial map, in particular I-cells, encode up- and downstrokes more reliably than those of the lateral map. This result correlates well with the significance of these temporal features for a particular behavior (the jamming avoidance response) as assessed by lesion experiments of the centromedial map.

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