We propose an algorithm for simultaneously estimating state transitions among neural states and nonstationary firing rates using a switching state-space model (SSSM). This algorithm enables us to detect state transitions on the basis of not only discontinuous changes in mean firing rates but also discontinuous changes in the temporal profiles of firing rates (e.g., temporal correlation). We construct estimation and learning algorithms for a nongaussian SSSM, whose nongaussian property is caused by binary spike events. Local variational methods can transform the binary observation process into a quadratic form. The transformed observation process enables us to construct a variational Bayes algorithm that can determine the number of neural states based on automatic relevance determination. Additionally, our algorithm can estimate model parameters from single-trial data using a priori knowledge about state transitions and firing rates. Synthetic data analysis reveals that our algorithm has higher performance for estimating nonstationary firing rates than previous methods. The analysis also confirms that our algorithm can detect state transitions on the basis of discontinuous changes in temporal correlation, which are transitions that previous hidden Markov models could not detect. We also analyze neural data recorded from the medial temporal area. The statistically detected neural states probably coincide with transient and sustained states that have been detected heuristically. Estimated parameters suggest that our algorithm detects the state transitions on the basis of discontinuous changes in the temporal correlation of firing rates. These results suggest that our algorithm is advantageous in real-data analysis.

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