Theses Doctoral

Identification and Validation of Structures in Neural Population Responses

Elsayed, Gamaleldin Fathy

A fundamental challenge of neuroscience is to understand how interconnected populations of neurons give rise to the remarkable computational abilities of our brains. Large neural datasets offer promise, but they are perilous: they are too complex to be studied with traditional single-neuron analyses, and thus require new analyses that can uncover structure at the level of the population. However, since these analyses operate on large datasets, our intuition whether structure is significant breaks down. Hence, we run the risk of over-interpreting structure from the population data that may have a simple explanation. Thus, with population analysis methods, there is also a need for methods that can validate the significance of structure identified. In this dissertation, I discuss topics covering both the identification and the validation of structure in population data. In the first part, I discuss novel methods for uncovering the computational strategy employed by the motor cortex to flexibly switch between different neural computations. I demonstrate that collective activity patterns of motor cortex neurons related to different computations are orthogonal yet can still be linked, indicating a degree of flexibility that was not displayed or predicted by existing cortical models. In the second part, I discuss a novel analytical framework to rigorously test the novelty of population-level findings, given a specified set of primary features such as correlations across time, neurons and experimental conditions. This framework provides a general tool for validating population findings across the brain and across population-level hypotheses.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Cunningham, John Patrick
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 23, 2017