Thorpe S, Delorme A, Van Rullen R. (2001) Spike-based strategies for rapid processing. Neural Networks. Jul-Sep;14(6-7):715-25.
Most experimental and theoretical studies of brain function assume that neurons transmit information as a rate code, but recent studies on the speed of visual processing impose temporal constraints that appear incompatible with such a coding scheme. Other coding schemes that use the pattern of spikes across a population a neurons may be much more efficient. For example, since strongly activated neurons tend to fire first, one can use the order of firing as a code. We argue that Rank Order Coding is not only very efficient, but also easy to implement in biological hardware: neurons can be made sensitive to the order of activation of their inputs by including a feed-forward shunting inhibition mechanism that progressively desensitizes the neuronal population during a wave of afferent activity. In such a case, maximum activation will only be produced when the afferent inputs are activated in the order of their synaptic weights.