Probabilistic Inference in General Graphical Models through Sampling in Stochastic Networks of Spiking Neurons

D. Pecevski, L. Büsing, and W. Maass


An important open problem of computational neuroscience is the generic organization of computations in networks of neurons in the brain. We show here through rigorous theoretical analysis that inherent stochastic features of spiking neurons, in combination with simple nonlinear computational operations in specific network motifs and dendritic arbors, enable networks of spiking neurons to carry out probabilistic inference through sampling in general graphical models. In particular, it enables them to carry out probabilistic inference in Bayesian networks with converging arrows (“explaining away”) and with undirected loops, that occur in many real-world tasks. Ubiquitous stochastic features of networks of spiking neurons, such as trial-to-trial variability and spontaneous activity, are necessary ingredients of the underlying computational organization. We demonstrate through computer simulations that this approach can be scaled up to neural emulations of probabilistic inference in fairly large graphical models, yielding some of the most complex computations that have been carried out so far in networks of spiking neurons.

Reference: D. Pecevski, L. Büsing, and W. Maass. Probabilistic inference in general graphical models through sampling in stochastic networks of spiking neurons. PLoS Computational Biology, 7(12):e1002294, 2011.