In many areas of the brain, neural spiking activity covaries with features of the external world, such as sensory stimuli or an animal's movement. Experimental findings suggest that the variability of neural activity changes over time and may provide information about the external world beyond the information provided by the average neural activity. To flexibly track time-varying neural response properties, we developed a dynamic model with Conway-Maxwell Poisson (CMP) observations. The CMP distribution can flexibly describe firing patterns that are both under- and overdispersed relative to the Poisson distribution. Here we track parameters of the CMP distribution as they vary over time. Using simulations, we show that a normal approximation can accurately track dynamics in state vectors for both the centering and shape parameters (λ and ν). We then fit our model to neural data from neurons in primary visual cortex, “place cells” in the hippocampus, and a speed-tuned neuron in the anterior pretectal nucleus. We find that this method outperforms previous dynamic models based on the Poisson distribution. The dynamic CMP model provides a flexible framework for tracking time-varying non-Poisson count data and may also have applications beyond neuroscience.

You do not currently have access to this content.