Scientists can now monitor and record the activity of hundreds of neurons concurrently in the brain, and ongoing technology developments promise to increase this number manyfold. However, simply recording the neural activity does not automatically lead to a clearer understanding of how the brain works.
In a new review paper published in Nature Neuroscience, Carnegie Mellon University’s Byron M. Yu and Columbia University’s John P. Cunningham describe the scientific motivations for studying the activity of many neurons together, along with a class of machine learning algorithms — dimensionality reduction — for interpreting the activity.
In recent years, dimensionality reduction has provided insight into how the brain distinguishes between different odors, makes decisions in the face of uncertainty and is able to think about moving a limb without actually moving. Yu and Cunningham contend that using dimensionality reduction as a standard analytical method will make it easier to compare activity patterns in healthy and abnormal brains, ultimately leading to improved treatments and interventions for brain injuries and disorders.