Optimal prior-dependent neural population codes under shared input noise

Agnieszka Grabska-Barwinska & Jonathan W. Pillow (2014)
Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 27, eds. Z. Ghahramani, M. Welling, C. Cortes, N. D. Lawrence, and K. Q. Weinberger, 1880-1888.

The brain uses population codes to form distributed, noise-tolerant representations of sensory and motor variables. Recent work has examined the theoretical optimality of such codes in order to gain insight into the principles governing population codes found in the brain. However, the majority of the population coding literature considers either conditionally independent neurons or neurons with noise governed by a stimulus-independent covariance matrix. Here we analyze population coding under a simple alternative model in which latent "input noise" corrupts the stimulus before it is encoded by the population. This provides a convenient and tractable description for irreducible uncertainty that cannot be overcome by adding neurons, and induces stimulus-dependent correlations that mimic certain aspects of the correlations observed in real populations. We examine prior-dependent, Bayesian optimal coding in such populations using exact analyses of cases in which the posterior is approximately Gaussian. These analyses extend previous results on independent Poisson population codes and yield an analytic expression for squared loss and a tight upper bound for mutual information. We show that, for homogeneous populations that tile the input domain, optimal tuning curve width depends on the prior, the loss function, the resource constraint, and the amount of input noise. This framework provides a practical testbed for examining issues of optimality, tuning width, noise, and correlations in realistic neural populations.

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