A neural network for online spike classification that improves decoding accuracy by Deepa Issar in Journal of Neurophysiology

February 26, 2020

From the article in Journal of Neurophysiology: Separating neural signals from noise can improve brain-computer interface performance and stability. However, most algorithms for separating neural action potentials from noise are not suitable for use in real time and have shown mixed effects on decoding performance. With the goal of removing noise that impedes online decoding, we sought to automate the intuition of human spike-sorters to operate in real time with an easily tunable parameter governing the stringency with which spike waveforms are classified. We trained an artificial neural network with one hidden layer on neural waveforms that were hand-labeled as either spikes or noise. The network output was a likelihood metric for each waveform it classified, and we tuned the network's stringency by varying the minimum likelihood value for a waveform to be considered a spike. Using the network's labels to exclude noise waveforms, we decoded remembered target location during a memory-guided saccade task from electrode arrays implanted in prefrontal cortex of rhesus macaque monkeys. The network classified waveforms in real time, and its classifications were qualitatively similar to those of a human spike-sorter. Compared to decoding with threshold crossings, in most sessions we improved decoding performance by removing waveforms with low spike likelihood values. Furthermore, decoding with our network's classifications became more beneficial as time since array implantation increased. Our classifier serves as a feasible preprocessing step, with little risk of harm, that could be applied to both offline neural data analyses and online decoding.