Evidence Optimization Techniques for Estimating Stimulus-Response Functions

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 15 (NIPS 2002)

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Maneesh Sahani, Jennifer Linden


An essential step in understanding the function of sensory nervous sys- tems is to characterize as accurately as possible the stimulus-response function (SRF) of the neurons that relay and process sensory informa- tion. One increasingly common experimental approach is to present a rapidly varying complex stimulus to the animal while recording the re- sponses of one or more neurons, and then to directly estimate a func- tional transformation of the input that accounts for the neuronal firing. The estimation techniques usually employed, such as Wiener filtering or other correlation-based estimation of the Wiener or Volterra kernels, are equivalent to maximum likelihood estimation in a Gaussian-output-noise regression model. We explore the use of Bayesian evidence-optimization techniques to condition these estimates. We show that by learning hyper- parameters that control the smoothness and sparsity of the transfer func- tion it is possible to improve dramatically the quality of SRF estimates, as measured by their success in predicting responses to novel input.