Inception loops discover what excites neurons most using deep predictive models

Nature Neuroscience
Edgar Y WalkerAndreas S Tolias


Finding sensory stimuli that drive neurons optimally is central to understanding information processing in the brain. However, optimizing sensory input is difficult due to the predominantly nonlinear nature of sensory processing and high dimensionality of the input. We developed 'inception loops', a closed-loop experimental paradigm combining in vivo recordings from thousands of neurons with in silico nonlinear response modeling. Our end-to-end trained, deep-learning-based model predicted thousands of neuronal responses to arbitrary, new natural input with high accuracy and was used to synthesize optimal stimuli-most exciting inputs (MEIs). For mouse primary visual cortex (V1), MEIs exhibited complex spatial features that occurred frequently in natural scenes but deviated strikingly from the common notion that Gabor-like stimuli are optimal for V1. When presented back to the same neurons in vivo, MEIs drove responses significantly better than control stimuli. Inception loops represent a widely applicable technique for dissecting the neural mechanisms of sensation.


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