A Caltech Library Service

Latent variable models for neural data analysis


Sahani, Maneesh (1999) Latent variable models for neural data analysis. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/hwy6-ar88.


The brain is perhaps the most complex system to have ever been subjected to rigorous scientific investigation. The scale is staggering: over 10^11 neurons, each making an average of 10^3 synapses, with computation occurring on scales ranging from a single dendritic spine, to an entire cortical area. Slowly, we are beginning to acquire experimental tools that can gather the massive amounts of data needed to characterize this system. However, to understand and interpret these data will also require substantial strides in inferential and statistical techniques. This dissertation attempts to meet this need, extending and applying the modern tools of latent variable modeling to problems in neural data analysis.

It is divided into two parts. The first begins with an exposition of the general techniques of latent variable modeling. A new, extremely general, optimization algorithm is proposed - called Relaxation Expectation Maximization (REM) - that may be used to learn the optimal parameter values of arbitrary latent variable models. This algorithm appears to alleviate the common problem of convergence to local, sub-optimal, likelihood maxima. REM leads to a natural framework for model size selection; in combination with standard model selection techniques the quality of fits may be further improved, while the appropriate model size is automatically and efficiently determined. Next, a new latent variable model, the mixture of sparse hidden Markov models, is introduced, and approximate inference and learning algorithms are derived for it. This model is applied in the second part of the thesis.

The second part brings the technology of part I to bear on two important problems in experimental neuroscience. The first is known as spike sorting; this is the problem of separating the spikes from different neurons embedded within an extracellular recording. The dissertation offers the first thorough statistical analysis of this problem, which then yields the first powerful probabilistic solution. The second problem addressed is that of characterizing the distribution of spike trains recorded from the same neuron under identical experimental conditions. A latent variable model is proposed. Inference and learning in this model leads to new principled algorithms for smoothing and clustering of spike data.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Computation and Neural Systems
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Major Option:Computation and Neural Systems
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Andersen, Richard A. (advisor)
  • Hopfield, John J. (advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Unknown, Unknown
Defense Date:14 May 1999
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:04092013-142650761
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7598
Deposited On:09 Apr 2013 21:54
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:08

Thesis Files

PDF - Final Version
See Usage Policy.


Repository Staff Only: item control page