Lars Buesing, Timothy A. Machado, John P. Cunningham, Liam Paninski
High-dimensional, simultaneous recordings of neural spiking activity are often explored, analyzed and visualized with the help of latent variable or factor models. Such models are however ill-equipped to extract structure beyond shared, distributed aspects of firing activity across multiple cells. Here, we extend unstructured factor models by proposing a model that discovers subpopulations or groups of cells from the pool of recorded neurons. The model combines aspects of mixture of factor analyzer models for capturing clustering structure, and aspects of latent dynamical system models for capturing temporal dependencies. In the resulting model, we infer the subpopulations and the latent factors from data using variational inference and model parameters are estimated by Expectation Maximization (EM). We also address the crucial problem of initializing parameters for EM by extending a sparse subspace clustering algorithm to integer-valued spike count observations. We illustrate the merits of the proposed model by applying it to calcium-imaging data from spinal cord neurons, and we show that it uncovers meaningful clustering structure in the data.