Modeling the Correlated Activity of Neural Populations: A Review

Neural Comput. 2019 Feb;31(2):233-269. doi: 10.1162/neco_a_01154. Epub 2018 Dec 21.


The principles of neural encoding and computations are inherently collective and usually involve large populations of interacting neurons with highly correlated activities. While theories of neural function have long recognized the importance of collective effects in populations of neurons, only in the past two decades has it become possible to record from many cells simultaneously using advanced experimental techniques with single-spike resolution and to relate these correlations to function and behavior. This review focuses on the modeling and inference approaches that have been recently developed to describe the correlated spiking activity of populations of neurons. We cover a variety of models describing correlations between pairs of neurons, as well as between larger groups, synchronous or delayed in time, with or without the explicit influence of the stimulus, and including or not latent variables. We discuss the advantages and drawbacks or each method, as well as the computational challenges related to their application to recordings of ever larger populations.