Sensory stimuli evoke spiking activities patterned across neurons and time that are hypothesized to encode information about their identity. Since the same stimulus can be encountered in a multitude of ways, how stable or flexible are these stimulus-evoked responses? Here, we examined this issue in the locust olfactory system. In the antennal lobe, we found that both spatial and temporal features of odor-evoked responses varied in a stimulus-history dependent manner. The response variations were not random, but allowed the antennal lobe circuit to enhance the uniqueness of the current stimulus. Nevertheless, information about the odorant identity became confounded due to this contrast-enhancement computation. Notably, a linear logical classifier (OR-of-ANDs) that can decode information distributed in flexible subsets of neurons generated predictions that matched results from our behavioral experiments. In sum, our results reveal a simple computational logic for achieving the stability vs. flexibility tradeoff in sensory coding.
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