Keywords: retina, efficient coding, convolutional neural network, synergy, natural scene
TL;DR: We used an encoder-decoder neural network to compare the features of retinal activity in response to different natural movies, revealing synergistic combinations of static and dynamic features with low-dimensional, generalizable representations.
Abstract: Much of sensory neuroscience focuses on sensory features that are chosen by the experimenter because they are thought to be behaviorally relevant to the organism. However, it is not generally known what these features are in complex, natural scenes. This work focuses on using the retinal encoding of natural movies to determine the presumably behaviorally-relevant features that the brain represents. It is prohibitive to parameterize a natural movie and its respective retinal encoding fully. We use time within a natural movie as a proxy for the whole suite of features evolving across the scene. We then use a task-agnostic deep architecture, an encoder-decoder, to model the retinal encoding process and characterize its representation of ``time in the natural scene'' in a compressed latent space. In our end-to-end training, an encoder learns a compressed latent representation from a large population of salamander retinal ganglion cells responding to natural movies, while a decoder samples from this compressed latent space to generate the appropriate movie frame. By comparing latent representations of retinal activity from three movies, we find that the retina performs transfer learning to encode time: the precise, low-dimensional representation of time learned from one movie can be used to represent time in a different movie, with up to 17ms resolution. We then show that static textures and velocity features of a natural movie are synergistic. The retina simultaneously encodes both to establishes a generalizable, low-dimensional representation of time in the natural scene.
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