Jonathan Pillow, James Scott
Characterizing the information carried by neural populations in the brain requires accurate statistical models of neural spike responses. The negative-binomial distribution provides a convenient model for over-dispersed spike counts, that is, responses with greater-than-Poisson variability. Here we describe a powerful data-augmentation framework for fully Bayesian inference in neural models with negative-binomial spiking. Our approach relies on a recently described latent-variable representation of the negative-binomial distribution, which equates it to a Polya-gamma mixture of normals. This framework provides a tractable, conditionally Gaussian representation of the posterior that can be used to design efficient EM and Gibbs sampling based algorithms for inference in regression and dynamic factor models. We apply the model to neural data from primate retina and show that it substantially outperforms Poisson regression on held-out data, and reveals latent structure underlying spike count correlations in simultaneously recorded spike trains.