- Sensory information is represented in the brain by the joint activity of large groups of neurons. Recent studies have shown that, although the number of possible activity patterns and underlying interactions is exponentially large, pairwise-based models give a surprisingly accurate description of neural population activity patterns. We explored the architecture of maximum entropy models of the functional interaction networks underlying the response of large populations of retinal ganglion cells, in adult tiger salamander retina, responding to natural and artificial stimuli. We found that we can further simplify these pairwise models by neglecting weak interaction terms or by relying on a small set of interaction strengths. Comparing network interactions under different visual stimuli, we show the existence of local network motifs in the interaction map of the retina. Our results demonstrate that the underlying interaction map of the retina is sparse and dominated by local overlapping interaction modules.