Adaptation is a widespread phenomenon in nervous systems, providing flexibility to function under varying external conditions. Here, we relate an adaptive property of a sensory system directly to its function as a carrier of information about input signals. We show that the input/output relation of a sensory system in a dynamic environment changes with the statistical properties of the environment. Specifically, when the dynamic range of inputs changes, the input/output relation rescales so as to match the dynamic range of responses to that of the inputs. We give direct evidence that the scaling of the input/output relation is set to maximize information transmission for each distribution of signals. This adaptive behavior should be particularly useful in dealing with the intermittent statistics of natural signals.
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