Indexed on: 31 Oct '06Published on: 31 Oct '06Published in: Journal of Neuroscience Methods
In spike-train data, bursts are considered as a unit of neural information and are of potential interest in studies of responses to any sensory stimulus. Consequently, burst detection appears to be a critical problem for which the Poisson-surprise (PS) method has been widely used for 20 years. However, this method has faced some recurrent criticism about the underlying assumptions regarding the interspike interval (ISI) distributions. In this paper, we avoid such assumptions by using a nonparametric approach for burst detection based on the ranks of ISI in the entire spike train. Similar to the PS statistic, a "Rank surprise" (RS) statistic is extracted. A new algorithm performing an exhaustive search of bursts in the spike trains is also presented. Compared to the performances of the PS method on realizations of gamma renewal processes and spike trains recorded in cat auditory cortex, we show that the RS method is very robust for any type of ISI distribution and is based on an elementary formalization of the definition of a burst. It presents an alternative to the PS method for non-Poisson spike trains and is simple to implement.