BMI Seminar // Tim Gentner - Intrinsic Geometry of a Combinatorial Sensory Neural Code for Birdsong
Understanding the nature of neural representation is a central challenge of neuroscience. One common approach to this challenge is to compute receptive fields by correlating neural activity with external variables drawn from sensory signals. But these receptive fields are only meaningful to the experimenter, not the organism, because only the experimenter has access to both the neural activity and knowledge of the external variables. To understand neural representation more directly, recent methodological advances have sought to capture the intrinsic geometry of sensory driven neural responses without external reference. To date, this approach has largely been restricted to low-dimensional stimuli as in spatial navigation. In this talk, I will discuss recent work from my lab examining the intrinsic geometry of sensory representations in a model vocal communication system, songbirds. From the assumption that sensory systems capture invariant relationships among stimulus features, we conceptualized the space of natural birdsongs to lie on the surface of an n-dimensional hypersphere. We computed composite receptive field models for large populations of simultaneously recorded single neurons in the auditory forebrain and show that solutions to these models define convex regions of response probability in the spherical stimulus space. We then define a combinatorial code over the set of receptive fields, realized in the moment-to-moment spiking and non-spiking patterns across the population, and show that this code can be used to reconstruct high-fidelity spectrographic representations of natural songs from evoked neural responses. Notably, we find that topological relationships among combinatorial codewords directly mirror acoustic relationships among songs in the spherical stimulus space. That is, the time-varying pattern of co-activity across the neural population expresses an intrinsic representational geometry that mirrors the natural, extrinsic stimulus space. Combinatorial patterns across this intrinsic space directly represent complex vocal communication signals, do not require computation of receptive fields, and are in a form, spike time coincidences, amenable to biophysical mechanisms of neural information propagation.
- Informed public
- Kathryn Hess Bellwald, Brain Mind Institute