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- Detecting rate changes in spike trains (2010)
- Neuronal activity in the brain is often investigated in the presence of stimuli, termed externally driven activity. This stimulus-response-perspective has long been focussed on in order to find out how the nervous system responds to different stimuli. The neuronal response consists of baseline activity, so called spontaneous activity1, and activity which is caused by the stimulus. The baseline activity is often considered as constant over time which allows the identification of the stimulus-evoked part of the neuronal response by averaging over a set of trials. However, during the last years it has been recognized that own dynamics of the nervous system plays an important role in information processing. As a consequence, spontaneous activity is no longer regarded only as background ’noise’ and its role in cortical processing is reconsidered. Therefore, the study of spontaneous firing pattern gains more importance as these patterns may shape neuronal responses to a larger extent as previously thought. For example, recent findings suggest that prestimulus activity can predict a person’s visual perception performance on a single trial basis (Hanslmayr et al., 2007). In this context, Ringach (2009) remarks that one can learn much about even the quiescent state of the brain which “underlies the importance of understanding cortical responses as the fusion of ongoing activity and sensory input”. Taking into account that spontaneous activity reflects anything else but noise, new challenges arise when analysing neuronal data. In this thesis one of these problems related to the analysis of neuronal activity will be adressed, namely the nonstationarity of firing rates. The present work consists of four chapters. First of all the introduction gives neurophysiological background information to get an idea of neuronal information processing. Afterwords the theory of point processes is provided which forms the basis for modeling neuronal spiking data. In the last section of the introduction a statement of the problem is given. Chapter 2 proposes an easily applicable statistical method for the detection of nonstationarity. It is applied to simulations and to real data in order to show its capabilities. Thereafter, four other approaches are presented which provide useful illustrations concerning the nonstationarity of the firing rate but share the problem that one cannot make objective statements on the basis of their results. They were developed in the course of establishing a suitable method. In chapter 4 the results are discussed and suggestions for further study are given.

- Detection and localization of multiple rate changes in Poisson spike trains : poster presentation from Twentieth Annual Computational Neuroscience Meeting CNS*2011 Stockholm, Sweden, 23 - 28 July 2011 (2011)
- Poster presentation from Twentieth Annual Computational Neuroscience Meeting: CNS*2011 Stockholm, Sweden. 23-28 July 2011. In statistical spike train analysis, stochastic point process models usually assume stationarity, in particular that the underlying spike train shows a constant firing rate (e.g. [1]). However, such models can lead to misinterpretation of the associated tests if the assumption of rate stationarity is not met (e.g. [2]). Therefore, the analysis of nonstationary data requires that rate changes can be located as precisely as possible. However, present statistical methods focus on rejecting the null hypothesis of stationarity without explicitly locating the change point(s) (e.g. [3]). We propose a test for stationarity of a given spike train that can also be used to estimate the change points in the firing rate. Assuming a Poisson process with piecewise constant firing rate, we propose a Step-Filter-Test (SFT) which can work simultaneously in different time scales, accounting for the high variety of firing patterns in experimental spike trains. Formally, we compare the numbers N1=N1(t,h) and N2=N2(t,h) of spikes in the time intervals (t-h,t] and (h,t+h]. By varying t within a fine time lattice and simultaneously varying the interval length h, we obtain a multivariate statistic D(h,t):=(N1-N2)/V(N1+N2), for which we prove asymptotic multivariate normality under homogeneity. From this a practical, graphical device to spot changes of the firing rate is constructed. Our graphical representation of D(h,t) (Figure 1A) visualizes the changes in the firing rate. For the statistical test, a threshold K is chosen such that under homogeneity, |D(h,t)|<K holds for all investigated h and t with probability 0.95. This threshold can indicate potential change points in order to estimate the inhomogeneous rate profile (Figure 1B). The SFT is applied to a sample data set of spontaneous single unit activity recorded from the substantia nigra of anesthetized mice. In this data set, multiple rate changes are identified which agree closely with visual inspection. In contrast to approaches choosing one fixed kernel width [4], our method has advantages in the flexibility of h.