Natural scene coding in ferret visual cortex was investigated using a new technique for multi-site recording of neuronal activity from the cortical surface. Surface recordings accurately reflected radially aligned layer 2/3 activity. At individual sites, evoked activity to natural scenes was weakly correlated with the local image contrast structure falling within the cells’ classical receptive field. However, a population code, derived from activity integrated across cortical sites having retinotopically overlapping receptive fields, correlated strongly with the local image contrast structure.
Cell responses demonstrated high lifetime sparseness, population sparseness, and high dispersal values, implying efficient neural coding in terms of information processing. These results indicate that while cells at an individual cortical site do not provide a reliable estimate of the local contrast structure in natural scenes, cell activity integrated across distributed cortical sites is closely related to this structure in the form of a sparse and dispersed code.