Maximum likelihood estimation of cascade point-process neural encoding models

Liam Paninski

Network: Computation in Neural Systems 15: 243-262.

Recent work has examined the estimation of models of stimulus-driven neural activity in which some linear filtering process is followed by a nonlinear, probabilistic spiking stage. We analyze the estimation of one such model for which this nonlinear step is implemented by a known parametric function; the assumption that this function is known speeds the estimation process considerably. We investigate the shape of the likelihood function for this type of model, give a simple condition on the nonlinearity ensuring that no non-global local maxima exist in the likelihood --- leading, in turn, to efficient algorithms for the computation of the maximum likelihood estimator --- and discuss the implications for the form of the allowed nonlinearities. Finally, we note some interesting connections between the likelihood-based estimators and the classical spike-triggered average estimator, discuss some useful extensions of the basic model structure, and provide two novel applications to physiological data.
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