Point process filters have been applied successfully to decode neural signals and track neural dynamics. Traditionally these methods assume that multiunit spiking activity has already been correctly spike-sorted. As a result, these methods are not appropriate for situations where sorting cannot be performed with high precision, such as real-time decoding for brain-computer interfaces. Because the unsupervised spike-sorting problem remains unsolved, we took an alternative approach that takes advantage of recent insights into clusterless decoding. Here we present a new point process decoding algorithm that does not require multiunit signals to be sorted into individual units. We use the theory of marked point processes to construct a function that characterizes the relationship between a covariate of interest (in this case, the location of a rat on a track) and features of the spike waveforms. In our example, we use tetrode recordings, and the marks represent a four-dimensional vector of the maximum amplitudes of the spike waveform on each of the four electrodes. In general, the marks may represent any features of the spike waveform. We then use Bayes’s rule to estimate spatial location from hippocampal neural activity.
We validate our approach with a simulation study and experimental data recorded in the hippocampus of a rat moving through a linear environment. Our decoding algorithm accurately reconstructs the rat’s position from unsorted multiunit spiking activity. We then compare the quality of our decoding algorithm to that of a traditional spike-sorting and decoding algorithm. Our analyses show that the proposed decoding algorithm performs equivalent to or better than algorithms based on sorted single-unit activity. These results provide a path toward accurate real-time decoding of spiking patterns that could be used to carry out content-specific manipulations of population activity in hippocampus or elsewhere in the brain.