Automatic identification of action potentials from one or more extracellular electrode recordings is generally achieved by clustering similar segments of the measured voltage trace, a method that fails (or requires substantial human intervention) for spikes whose waveforms overlap. We formulate the problem in terms of a simple probabilistic model, and develop a unified method to identify spike waveforms along with continuous-valued estimates of their arrival times, even in the presence of overlap. Specifically, we make use of a recent algorithm known as Continuous Basis Pursuit for solving linear inverse problems in which the component occurrences are sparse and are at arbitrary continuous-valued times. We demonstrate significant performance improvements over current state-of-the-art clustering methods for four simulated and two real data sets with ground truth, each of which has previously been used as a benchmark for spike sorting. In addition, performance of our method on each of these data sets surpasses that of the best possible clustering method (i.e., one that is specifically optimized to minimize errors on each data set). Finally, the algorithm is almost completely automated, with a computational cost that scales well for multi-electrode arrays. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
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