Sebastian Gerwinn, Philipp Berens, Matthias Bethge
Second-order maximum-entropy models have recently gained much interest for describing the statistics of binary spike trains. Here, we extend this approach to take continuous stimuli into account as well. By constraining the joint second-order statistics, we obtain a joint Gaussian-Boltzmann distribution of continuous stimuli and binary neural firing patterns, for which we also compute marginal and conditional distributions. This model has the same computational complexity as pure binary models and fitting it to data is a convex problem. We show that the model can be seen as an extension to the classical spike-triggered average/covariance analysis and can be used as a non-linear method for extracting features which a neural population is sensitive to. Further, by calculating the posterior distribution of stimuli given an observed neural response, the model can be used to decode stimuli and yields a natural spike-train metric. Therefore, extending the framework of maximum-entropy models to continuous variables allows us to gain novel insights into the relationship between the firing patterns of neural ensembles and the stimuli they are processing.