Inferring input nonlinearities in neural encoding models

Misha Ahrens, Liam Paninski, and Maneesh Sahani

Network: Computation in Neural Systems, Volume 19, 2008, pages 35-67.

We describe a class of models that predict how the instantaneous firing rate of a neuron depends on a dynamic stimulus. The models utilize a learnt pointwise nonlinear transform of the stimulus, followed by a linear filter that acts on the sequence of transformed inputs. In one case, the nonlinear transform is the same at all filter lag-times. Thus, this and present techniques to regularise and quantify uncertainty in the estimates. In a second approach, the model is generalized to allow a different nonlinear transform of the stimulus value at each lag-time. Although more general, this model is algorithmically more straightforward to fit. However, it has many more degrees of freedom than the first approach, thus requiring more data for accurate estimation. We test the feasibility of these methods on synthetic data, and on responses from a neuron in rodent barrel cortex. The models are shown to predict responses to novel data accurately, and to recover several important neuronal response properties.
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