Model-based targeted dimensionality reduction for neuronal population data

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

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Mikio Aoi, Jonathan W. Pillow


Summarizing high-dimensional data using a small number of parameters is a ubiquitous first step in the analysis of neuronal population activity. Recently developed methods use "targeted" approaches that work by identifying multiple, distinct low-dimensional subspaces of activity that capture the population response to individual experimental task variables, such as the value of a presented stimulus or the behavior of the animal. These methods have gained attention because they decompose total neural activity into what are ostensibly different parts of a neuronal computation. However, existing targeted methods have been developed outside of the confines of probabilistic modeling, making some aspects of the procedures ad hoc, or limited in flexibility or interpretability. Here we propose a new model-based method for targeted dimensionality reduction based on a probabilistic generative model of the population response data. The low-dimensional structure of our model is expressed as a low-rank factorization of a linear regression model. We perform efficient inference using a combination of expectation maximization and direct maximization of the marginal likelihood. We also develop an efficient method for estimating the dimensionality of each subspace. We show that our approach outperforms alternative methods in both mean squared error of the parameter estimates, and in identifying the correct dimensionality of encoding using simulated data. We also show that our method provides more accurate inference of low-dimensional subspaces of activity than a competing algorithm, demixed PCA.