Scaling the Poisson GLM to massive neural datasets through polynomial approximations

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)

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David Zoltowski, Jonathan W. Pillow


Recent advances in recording technologies have allowed neuroscientists to record simultaneous spiking activity from hundreds to thousands of neurons in multiple brain regions. Such large-scale recordings pose a major challenge to existing statistical methods for neural data analysis. Here we develop highly scalable approximate inference methods for Poisson generalized linear models (GLMs) that require only a single pass over the data. Our approach relies on a recently proposed method for obtaining approximate sufficient statistics for GLMs using polynomial approximations [Huggins et al., 2017], which we adapt to the Poisson GLM setting. We focus on inference using quadratic approximations to nonlinear terms in the Poisson GLM log-likelihood with Gaussian priors, for which we derive closed-form solutions to the approximate maximum likelihood and MAP estimates, posterior distribution, and marginal likelihood. We introduce an adaptive procedure to select the polynomial approximation interval and show that the resulting method allows for efficient and accurate inference and regularization of high-dimensional parameters. We use the quadratic estimator to fit a fully-coupled Poisson GLM to spike train data recorded from 831 neurons across five regions of the mouse brain for a duration of 41 minutes, binned at 1 ms resolution. Across all neurons, this model is fit to over 2 billion spike count bins and identifies fine-timescale statistical dependencies between neurons within and across cortical and subcortical areas.