Karin C. Knudson, Jonathan W. Pillow
Entropy rate quantifies the amount of disorder in a stochastic process. For spiking neurons, the entropy rate places an upper bound on the rate at which the spike train can convey stimulus information, and a large literature has focused on the problem of estimating entropy rate from spike train data. Here we present Bayes Least Squares and Empirical Bayesian entropy rate estimators for binary spike trains using Hierarchical Dirichlet Process (HDP) priors. Our estimator leverages the fact that the entropy rate of an ergodic Markov Chain with known transition probabilities can be calculated analytically, and many stochastic processes that are non-Markovian can still be well approximated by Markov processes of sufficient depth. Choosing an appropriate depth of Markov model presents challenges due to possibly long time dependencies and short data sequences: a deeper model can better account for long time-dependencies, but is more difficult to infer from limited data. Our approach mitigates this difficulty by using a hierarchical prior to share statistical power across Markov chains of different depths. We present both a fully Bayesian and empirical Bayes entropy rate estimator based on this model, and demonstrate their performance on simulated and real neural spike train data.