Inferring brain-computational mechanisms with models of activity measurements

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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences





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High-resolution functional imaging is providing increasingly rich measurements of brain activity in animals and humans.A major challenge is to leverage such data to gain insight into the brain’s computational mechanisms.The first step is to define candidate brain-computational models (BCMs) that can perform the behavioural task in question.We would then like to infer which of the candidate BCMs best accounts for measured brain-activity data.Here we describe a method that complements each BCM by a measurement model (MM), which simulates the way the brain-activity measurements reflect neuronal activity (e.g.local averaging in functionalmagnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) voxels or sparse sampling in array recordings).The resulting generative model (BCM-MM) produces simulated measurements.To avoid having to fit the MM to predict each individual measurement channel of the brain-activity data,we compare themeasured and predicted data at the level of summary statistics.We describe a novel particular implementation of this approach, called probabilistic representational similarity analysis (pRSA) with MMs, which uses representational dissimilarity matrices (RDMs) as the summary statistics.We validate this method by simulations of fMRI measurements (locally averaging voxels) based on a deep convolutional neural network for visual object recognition.Results indicate that theway the measurements sample the activity patterns strongly affects the apparent representational dissimilarities.However, modelling of the measurement process can account for these effects, and different BCMs remain distinguishable even under substantial noise.The pRSA method enables us to perform Bayesian inference on the set of BCMs and to recognize the data-generating model in each case.