Estimating and interpreting nonlinear receptive field of sensory neural responses with deep neural network models

Elife. 2020 Jun 26;9:e53445. doi: 10.7554/eLife.53445.


Our understanding of nonlinear stimulus transformations by neural circuits is hindered by the lack of comprehensive yet interpretable computational modeling frameworks. Here, we propose a data-driven approach based on deep neural networks to directly model arbitrarily nonlinear stimulus-response mappings. Reformulating the exact function of a trained neural network as a collection of stimulus-dependent linear functions enables a locally linear receptive field interpretation of the neural network. Predicting the neural responses recorded invasively from the auditory cortex of neurosurgical patients as they listened to speech, this approach significantly improves the prediction accuracy of auditory cortical responses, particularly in nonprimary areas. Moreover, interpreting the functions learned by neural networks uncovered three distinct types of nonlinear transformations of speech that varied considerably from primary to nonprimary auditory regions. The ability of this framework to capture arbitrary stimulus-response mappings while maintaining model interpretability leads to a better understanding of cortical processing of sensory signals.

Keywords: computational modeling; human; human auditory cortex; neuroscience; sensory processing; speech.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Electrocorticography
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Speech