The advent of methods for optical imaging of large-scale neural activity at cellular resolution in behaving animals presents the problem of identifying behavior-encoding cells within the resulting image time series. Rapid and precise identification of cells with particular neural encoding would facilitate targeted activity measurements and perturbations useful in characterizing the operating principles of neural circuits. Here we report a regression-based approach to semiautomatically identify neurons that is based on the correlation of fluorescence time series with quantitative measurements of behavior. The approach is illustrated with a novel preparation allowing synchronous eye tracking and two-photon laser scanning fluorescence imaging of calcium changes in populations of hindbrain neurons during spontaneous eye movement in the larval zebrafish. Putative velocity-to-position oculomotor integrator neurons were identified that showed a broad spatial distribution and diversity of encoding. Optical identification of integrator neurons was confirmed with targeted loose-patch electrical recording and laser ablation. The general regression-based approach we demonstrate should be widely applicable to calcium imaging time series in behaving animals.
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