PLoS Comput Biol. 2023 Nov 30;19(11):e1011667. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1011667. Online ahead of print.
Divisive normalization, a prominent descriptive model of neural activity, is employed by theories of neural coding across many different brain areas. Yet, the relationship between normalization and the statistics of neural responses beyond single neurons remains largely unexplored. Here we focus on noise correlations, a widely studied pairwise statistic, because its stimulus and state dependence plays a central role in neural coding. Existing models of covariability typically ignore normalization despite empirical evidence suggesting it affects correlation structure in neural populations. We therefore propose a pairwise stochastic divisive normalization model that accounts for the effects of normalization and other factors on covariability. We first show that normalization modulates noise correlations in qualitatively different ways depending on whether normalization is shared between neurons, and we discuss how to infer when normalization signals are shared. We then apply our model to calcium imaging data from mouse primary visual cortex (V1), and find that it accurately fits the data, often outperforming a popular alternative model of correlations. Our analysis indicates that normalization signals are often shared between V1 neurons in this dataset. Our model will enable quantifying the relation between normalization and covariability in a broad range of neural systems, which could provide new constraints on circuit mechanisms of normalization and their role in information transmission and representation.