To better understand the role of timing in the function of the nervous system, we have developed a methodology that allows the entropy of neuronal discharge activity to be estimated from a spike train record when it may be assumed that successive interspike intervals are temporally uncorrelated. The so-called interval entropy obtained by this methodology is based on an implicit enumeration of all possible spike trains that are statistically indistinguishable from a given spike train. The interval entropy is calculated from an analytic distribution whose parameters are obtained by maximum likelihood estimation from the interval probability distribution associated with a given spike train. We show that this approach reveals features of neuronal discharge not seen with two alternative methods of entropy estimation. The methodology allows for validation of the obtained data models by calculation of confidence intervals for the parameters of the analytic distribution and the testing of the significance of the fit between the observed and analytic interval distributions by means of Kolmogorov-Smirnov and Anderson-Darling statistics. The method is demonstrated by analysis of two different data sets: simulated spike trains evoked by either Poissonian or near-synchronous pulsed activation of a model cerebellar Purkinje neuron and spike trains obtained by extracellular recording from spontaneously discharging cultured rat hippocampal neurons.

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