Mijung Park, Jonathan Pillow
Active learning can substantially improve the yield of neurophysiology experiments by adaptively selecting stimuli to probe a neuron's receptive field (RF) in real time. Bayesian active learning methods maintain a posterior distribution over the RF, and select stimuli to maximally reduce posterior entropy on each time step. However, existing methods tend to rely on simple Gaussian priors, and do not exploit uncertainty at the level of hyperparameters when determining an optimal stimulus. This uncertainty can play a substantial role in RF characterization, particularly when RFs are smooth, sparse, or local in space and time. In this paper, we describe a novel framework for active learning under hierarchical, conditionally Gaussian priors. Our algorithm uses sequential Markov Chain Monte Carlo sampling (''particle filtering'' with MCMC) over hyperparameters to construct a mixture-of-Gaussians representation of the RF posterior, and selects optimal stimuli using an approximate infomax criterion. The core elements of this algorithm are parallelizable, making it computationally efficient for real-time experiments. We apply our algorithm to simulated and real neural data, and show that it can provide highly accurate receptive field estimates from very limited data, even with a small number of hyperparameter samples.