Time-rescaling methods for the estimation and assessment of non-Poisson neural encoding models

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 22 (NIPS 2009)

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Jonathan Pillow


Recent work on the statistical modeling of neural responses has focused on modulated renewal processes in which the spike rate is a function of the stimulus and recent spiking history. Typically, these models incorporate spike-history dependencies via either: (A) a conditionally-Poisson process with rate dependent on a linear projection of the spike train history (e.g., generalized linear model); or (B) a modulated non-Poisson renewal process (e.g., inhomogeneous gamma process). Here we show that the two approaches can be combined, resulting in a {\it conditional renewal} (CR) model for neural spike trains. This model captures both real and rescaled-time effects, and can be fit by maximum likelihood using a simple application of the time-rescaling theorem [1]. We show that for any modulated renewal process model, the log-likelihood is concave in the linear filter parameters only under certain restrictive conditions on the renewal density (ruling out many popular choices, e.g. gamma with $\kappa \neq1$), suggesting that real-time history effects are easier to estimate than non-Poisson renewal properties. Moreover, we show that goodness-of-fit tests based on the time-rescaling theorem [1] quantify relative-time effects, but do not reliably assess accuracy in spike prediction or stimulus-response modeling. We illustrate the CR model with applications to both real and simulated neural data.