Sequential optimal design of neurophysiology experiments

Jeremy Lewi, Robert Butera, and Liam Paninski

Neural Computation 21: 619-687.

Adaptively optimizing experiments has the potential to significantly reduce the number of trials needed to build parametric statistical models of neural systems. However, application of adaptive methods to neurophysiology has been limited by severe computational challenges. Since most neurons are high dimensional systems, optimizing neurophysiology experiments requires computing high-dimensional integrations and optimizations in real time. Here we present a fast algorithm for choosing the most informative stimulus by maximizing the mutual information between the data and the unknown parameters of a generalized linear model (GLM) which we want to fit to the neuron's activity. We rely on important log-concavity and asymptotic normality properties of the posterior to facilitate the required computations. Our algorithm requires only low-rank matrix manipulations and a 2-dimensional search to choose the optimal stimulus. The average running time of these operations scales quadratically with the dimensionality of the GLM, making real-time adaptive experimental design feasible even for high-dimensional stimulus and parameter spaces. For example, we require roughly 10 milliseconds on a desktop computer to optimize a 100-dimensional stimulus. Despite using some approximations to make the algorithm efficient, our algorithm asymptotically decreases the uncertainty about the model parameters at a rate equal to the maximum rate predicted by an asymptotic analysis. Simulation results show that picking stimuli by maximizing the mutual information can speed up convergence to the optimal values of the parameters by an order of magnitude compared to using random (nonadaptive) stimuli. Finally, applying our design procedure to real neurophysiology experiments requires addressing the nonstationarities that we would expect to see in neural responses; our algorithm can efficiently handle both fast adaptation due to spike-history effects and slow, non-systematic drifts in a neuron's activity.
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