Norepinephrine and Neural Interrupts

Neural Information Processing Systems

Experimental data indicate that norepinephrine is critically involved in aspects of vigilance and attention. Previously, we considered the function ofthis neuromodulatory system on a time scale of minutes and longer, and suggested that it signals global uncertainty arising from gross changes in environmental contingencies. However, norepinephrine is also known to be activated phasically by familiar stimuli in welllearned tasks.Here, we extend our uncertainty-based treatment of norepinephrine tothis phasic mode, proposing that it is involved in the detection and reaction to state uncertainty within a task. This role of norepinephrine canbe understood through the metaphor of neural interrupts.


Neural Models for Part-Whole Hierarchies

Neural Information Processing Systems

We present a connectionist method for representing images that explicitly addressestheir hierarchical nature. It blends data from neuroscience aboutwhole-object viewpoint sensitive cells in inferotemporal cortex8 and attentional basis-field modulation in V43 with ideas about hierarchical descriptions based on microfeatures.5,11 The resulting model makes critical use of bottom-up and top-down pathways for analysis and synthesis.


Neural Implementation of Hierarchical Bayesian Inference by Importance Sampling

Neural Information Processing Systems

The goal of perception is to infer the hidden states in the hierarchical process by which sensory data are generated. Human behavior is consistent with the optimal statistical solution to this problem in many tasks, including cue combination and orientation detection. Understanding the neural mechanisms underlying this behavior is of particular importance, since probabilistic computations are notoriously challenging. Here we propose a simple mechanism for Bayesian inference which involves averaging over a few feature detection neurons which fire at a rate determined by their similarity to a sensory stimulus. This mechanism is based on a Monte Carlo method known as importance sampling, commonly used in computer science and statistics. Moreover, a simple extension to recursive importance sampling can be used to perform hierarchical Bayesian inference. We identify a scheme for implementing importance sampling with spiking neurons, and show that this scheme can account for human behavior in cue combination and oblique effect.


Spatio-temporal Representations of Uncertainty in Spiking Neural Networks

Neural Information Processing Systems

It has been long argued that, because of inherent ambiguity and noise, the brain needs to represent uncertainty in the form of probability distributions. The neural encoding of such distributions remains however highly controversial. Here we present a novel circuit model for representing multidimensional real-valued distributions using a spike based spatio-temporal code. Our model combines the computational advantages of the currently competing models for probabilistic codes and exhibits realistic neural responses along a variety of classic measures. Furthermore, the model highlights the challenges associated with interpreting neural activity in relation to behavioral uncertainty and points to alternative population-level approaches for the experimental validation of distributed representations.


Dendritic Compartmentalization Could Underlie Competition and Attentional Biasing of Simultaneous Visual Stimuli

Neural Information Processing Systems

Neurons in area V4 have relatively large receptive fields (RFs), so multiple visualfeatures are simultaneously "seen" by these cells. Recordings from single V4 neurons suggest that simultaneously presented stimuli compete to set the output firing rate, and that attention acts to isolate individual features by biasing the competition in favor of the attended object. We propose that both stimulus competition and attentional biasing arisefrom the spatial segregation of afferent synapses onto different regions of the excitable dendritic tree of V4 neurons. The pattern of feedforward, stimulus-driveninputs follows from a Hebbian rule: excitatory afferents with similar RFs tend to group together on the dendritic tree, avoiding randomly located inhibitory inputs with similar RFs. The same principle guides the formation of inputs that mediate attentional modulation.