A systematic approach to selecting task relevant neurons

Kevin Kahn, Shreya Saxena, Emad Eskandar, Nitish Thakor, Marc Schieber, John T. Gale, Bruno Averbeck, Uri Eden, Sridevi V. Sarma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Since task related neurons cannot be specifically targeted during surgery, a critical decision to make is to select which neurons are task-related when performing data analysis. Including neurons unrelated to the task degrade decoding accuracy and confound neurophysiological results. Traditionally, task-related neurons are selected as those with significant changes in firing rate when a stimulus is applied. However, this assumes that neurons' encoding of stimuli are dominated by their firing rate with little regard to temporal dynamics. New method: This paper proposes a systematic approach for neuron selection, which uses a likelihood ratio test to capture the contribution of stimulus to spiking activity while taking into account task-irrelevant intrinsic dynamics that affect firing rates. This approach is denoted as the model deterioration excluding stimulus (MDES) test. Results: MDES is compared to firing rate selection in four case studies: a simulation, a decoding example, and two neurophysiology examples. Comparison with existing methods: The MDES rankings in the simulation match closely with ideal rankings, while firing rate rankings are skewed by task-irrelevant parameters. For decoding, 95% accuracy is achieved using the top 8 MDES-ranked neurons, while the top 12 firing-rate ranked neurons are needed. In the neurophysiological examples, MDES matches published results when firing rates do encode salient stimulus information, and uncovers oscillatory modulations in task-related neurons that are not captured when neurons are selected using firing rates. Conclusions: These case studies illustrate the importance of accounting for intrinsic dynamics when selecting task-related neurons and following the MDES approach accomplishes that. MDES selects neurons that encode task-related information irrespective of these intrinsic dynamics which can bias firing rate based selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-168
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Model based
  • Neuron selection
  • Point processes
  • Task-related neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'A systematic approach to selecting task relevant neurons'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this