Fano factor estimation
Kamil Rajdl Petr Lansky
Fano factor is one of the most widely used measures of variability of spike trains. Its standard estimator is the ratio of sample variance to sample mean of spike counts observed in a time window and the quality of the estimator strongly depends on the length of the window. We investigate this dependence under the assumption that the spike train behaves as an equilibrium renewal process. It is shown what characteristics of the spike train have large effect on the estimator bias. Namely, the effect of refractory period is analytically evaluated. Next, we create an approximate asymptotic formula for the mean square error of the estimator, which can also be used to find minimum of the error in estimation from single spike trains. The accuracy of the Fano factor estimator is compared with the accuracy of the estimator based on the squared coefficient of variation. All the results are illustrated for spike trains with gamma and inverse Gaussian probability distributions of interspike intervals. Finally, we discuss possibilities of how to select a suitable observation window for the Fano factor estimation.
keywords: renewal process Fano factor refractory period. mean square error estimation

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