Publication date: Available online 23 June 2017
Source:Journal of Neuroscience Methods
Author(s): Kevin Q. Shan, Evgueniy V. Lubenov, Athanassios G. Siapas
BackgroundChronic extracellular recordings are a powerful tool for systems neuroscience, but spike sorting remains a challenge. A common approach is to fit a generative model, such as a mixture of Gaussians, to the observed spike data. Even if non-parametric methods are used for spike sorting, such generative models provide a quantitative measure of unit isolation quality, which is crucial for subsequent interpretation of the sorted spike trains.New methodWe present a spike sorting strategy that models the data as a mixture of drifting t-distributions. This model captures two important features of chronic extracellular recordings—cluster drift over time and heavy tails in the distribution of spikes—and offers improved robustness to outliers.ResultsWe evaluate this model on several thousand hours of chronic tetrode recordings and show that it fits the empirical data substantially better than a mixture of Gaussians. We also provide a software implementation that can re-fit long datasets in a few seconds, enabling interactive clustering of chronic recordings.Comparison with existing methodsWe identify three common failure modes of spike sorting methods that assume stationarity and evaluate their impact given the empirically-observed cluster drift in chronic recordings. Using hybrid ground truth datasets, we also demonstrate that our model-based estimate of misclassification error is more accurate than previous unit isolation metrics.ConclusionsThe mixture of drifting t-distributions model enables efficient spike sorting of long datasets and provides an accurate measure of unit isolation quality over a wide range of conditions.
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