Cornelius Schröder, Ben James, Leon Lagnado, Philipp Berens
The inherent noise of neural systems makes it difficult to construct models which accurately capture experimental measurements of their activity. While much research has been done on how to efficiently model neural activity with descriptive models such as linear-nonlinear-models (LN), Bayesian inference for mechanistic models has received considerably less attention. One reason for this is that these models typically lead to intractable likelihoods and thus make parameter inference difficult. Here, we develop an approximate Bayesian inference scheme for a fully stochastic, biophysically inspired model of glutamate release at the ribbon synapse, a highly specialized synapse found in different sensory systems. The model translates known structural features of the ribbon synapse into a set of stochastically coupled equations. We approximate the posterior distributions by updating a parametric prior distribution via Bayesian updating rules and show that model parameters can be efficiently estimated for synthetic and experimental data from in vivo two-photon experiments in the zebrafish retina. Also, we find that the model captures complex properties of the synaptic release such as the temporal precision and outperforms a standard GLM. Our framework provides a viable path forward for linking mechanistic models of neural activity to measured data.