On the Number of Neurons and Time Scale of Integration Underlying the Formation of Percepts in the Brain

Adrien Wohrer 1, 2 Christian Machens 2
2 Group for Neural Theory [Paris]
LNC - Laboratoire de Neurosciences cognitives, IEC - Institut d'étude de la cognition
Abstract : All of our perceptual experiences arise from the activity of neural populations. Here we study the formation of such percepts under the assumption that they emerge from a linear readout, i.e., a weighted sum of the neurons' firing rates. We show that this assumption constrains the trial-to-trial covariance structure of neural activities and animal behavior. The predicted covariance structure depends on the readout parameters, and in particular on the temporal integration window w and typical number of neurons K used in the formation of the percept. Using these predictions, we show how to infer the readout parameters from joint measurements of a subject's behavior and neural activities. We consider three such scenarios: (1) recordings from the complete neural population, (2) recordings of neuronal sub-ensembles whose size exceeds K, and (3) recordings of neuronal sub-ensembles that are smaller than K. Using theoretical arguments and artificially generated data, we show that the first two scenarios allow us to recover the typical spatial and temporal scales of the read-out. In the third scenario, we show that the readout parameters can only be recovered by making additional assumptions about the structure of the full population activity. Our work provides the first thorough interpretation of (feed-forward) percept formation from a population of sensory neurons. We discuss applications to experimental recordings in classic sensory decision-making tasks, which will hopefully provide new insights into the nature of perceptual integration. Author Summary This article deals with the interpretation of neural activities during perceptual decision-making tasks, where animals must assess the value of a sensory stimulus and take a decision on the basis of their percept. A "standard model" for these tasks has progressively emerged, whence the animal's percept and subsequent choice on each trial are obtained from a linear integration of the activity of sensory neurons. However, up to date, there has PLOS Computational Biology |
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Adrien Wohrer, Christian Machens. On the Number of Neurons and Time Scale of Integration Underlying the Formation of Percepts in the Brain. PLoS Computational Biology, Public Library of Science, 2015, 11 (3), pp.e1004082. ⟨10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004082⟩. ⟨hal-01905047⟩

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