Receptive field inference with localized priors

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56 Scopus citations


The linear receptive field describes a mapping from sensory stimuli to a one-dimensional variable governing a neuron's spike response. However, traditional receptive field estimators such as the spike-triggered average converge slowly and often require large amounts of data. Bayesian methods seek to overcome this problem by biasing estimates towards solutions that are more likely a priori, typically those with small, smooth, or sparse coefficients. Here we introduce a novel Bayesian receptive field estimator designed to incorporate locality, a powerful form of prior information about receptive field structure. The key to our approach is a hierarchical receptive field model that flexibly adapts to localized structure in both spacetime and spatiotemporal frequency, using an inference method known as empirical Bayes. We refer to our method as automatic locality determination (ALD), and show that it can accurately recover various types of smooth, sparse, and localized receptive fields. We apply ALD to neural data from retinal ganglion cells and V1 simple cells, and find it achieves error rates several times lower than standard estimators. Thus, estimates of comparable accuracy can be achieved with substantially less data. Finally, we introduce a computationally efficient Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithm for fully Bayesian inference under the ALD prior, yielding accurate Bayesian confidence intervals for small or noisy datasets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002219
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Modeling and Simulation


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