Estimating cortical maps with Gaussian process models


A striking feature of cortical organization is that the encoding of many stimulus features, such as orientation preference, is arranged into topographic maps. The structure of these maps has been extensively studied using functional imaging methods, for example optical imaging of intrinsic signals, voltage sensitive dye imaging or functional magnetic resonance imaging. As functional imaging measurements are usually noisy, statistical processing of the data is necessary to extract maps from the imaging data. We here present a probabilistic model of functional imaging data based on Gaussian processes. In comparison to conventional approaches, our model yields superior estimates of cortical maps from smaller amounts of data. In addition, we obtain quantitative uncertainty estimates, ie error bars on properties of the estimated map. We use our probabilistic model to study the coding properties of the map and the role of noise correlations by decoding the stimulus from single trials of an imaging experiment. In addition, we show how our method can be used to reconstruct maps from sparse measurements, for example multi-electrode recordings. We demonstrate our model both on simulated data and on intrinsic signaling data from ferret visual cortex.