With the accelerated development of neural recording technology over the past few decades, research in integrative neuroscience has become increasingly reliant on data analysis methods that are scalable to high-dimensional recordings and computationally tractable. Latent process models have shown promising results in estimating the dynamics of cognitive processes using individual models for each neuron's receptive field. However, scaling these models to work on high-dimensional neural recordings remains challenging. Not only is it impractical to build receptive field models for individual neurons of a large neural population, but most neural data analyses based on individual receptive field models discard the local history of neural activity, which has been shown to be critical in the accurate inference of the underlying cognitive processes. Here, we propose a novel, scalable latent process model that can directly estimate cognitive process dynamics without requiring precise receptive field models of individual neurons or brain nodes. We call this the direct discriminative decoder (DDD) model. The DDD model consists of (1) a discriminative process that characterizes the conditional distribution of the signal to be estimated, or state, as a function of both the current neural activity and its local history, and (2) a state transition model that characterizes the evolution of the state over a longer time period.
While this modeling framework inherits advantages of existing latent process modeling methods, its computational cost is tractable. More important, the solution can incorporate any information from the history of neural activity at any timescale in computing the estimate of the state process. There are many choices in building the discriminative process, including deep neural networks or gaussian processes, which adds to the flexibility of the framework. We argue that these attributes of the proposed methodology, along with its applicability to different modalities of neural data, make it a powerful tool for high-dimensional neural data analysis. We also introduce an extension of these methods, called the discriminative-generative decoder (DGD). The DGD includes both discriminative and generative processes in characterizing observed data. As a result, we can combine physiological correlates like behavior with neural data to better estimate underlying cognitive processes. We illustrate the methods, including steps for inference and model identification, and demonstrate applications to multiple data analysis problems with high-dimensional neural recordings. The modeling results demonstrate the computational and modeling advantages of the DDD and DGD methods.