Sorting Components module

Spike sorting is comprised of several steps, or components. In the spikeinterface.sortingcomponents module we are building a library of methods and steps that can be assembled to build full spike sorting pipelines.

The goal is to allow for the modularization of spike sorting algorithms. Currently, spike sorters are shipped as full packages with all the steps needed to perform end-to-end spike sorting.

However, this might not be the best option. It is in fact very likely that a sorter has one excellent step, say the clustering, but another step, which is sub-optimal. Decoupling different steps as separate components would allow one to mix-and-match sorting steps from different sorters.

Another advantage of modularization is that we can accurately benchmark every step of a spike sorting pipeline. For example, what is the performance of peak detection method 1 or 2, provided that the rest of the pipeline is the same?

Currently, we have methods for:
  • peak detection

  • peak localization

  • peak selection

  • motion estimation

  • motion interpolation

  • clustering

  • template matching

For some of these steps, implementations are in a very early stage and are still a bit drafty. Signature and behavior may change from time to time in this alpha period development.

You can also have a look spikeinterface blog where there are more detailed notebooks on sorting components.

Peak detection

Peak detection is usually the first step of spike sorting and it consists of finding peaks in the traces that could be actual spikes.

Peaks can be detected with the detect_peaks() function as follows:

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_detection import detect_peaks

job_kwargs = dict(chunk_duration='1s', n_jobs=8, progress_bar=True)

peaks = detect_peaks(

The output peaks is a NumPy array with a length of the number of peaks found and the following dtype:

peak_dtype = [('sample_index', 'int64'), ('channel_index', 'int64'), ('amplitude', 'float64'), ('segment_index', 'int64')]

Different methods are available with the method argument:

  • ‘by_channel’ (default): peaks are detected separately for each channel

  • ‘locally_exclusive’ (requires numba): peaks on neighboring channels within a certain radius are excluded (not counted multiple times)

  • ‘by_channel_torch’ (requires torch): pytorch implementation (GPU-compatible) that uses max pooling for time deduplication

  • ‘locally_exclusive_torch’ (requires torch): pytorch implementation (GPU-compatible) that uses max pooling for space-time deduplication

NOTE: the torch implementations give slightly different results due to a different implementation.

Peak detection, as many of the other sorting components, can be run in parallel.

Peak localization

Peak localization estimates the spike location on the probe. An estimate of location can be important to correct for drift or cluster spikes into different units.

Peak localization can be run using localize_peaks() as follows:

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_localization import localize_peaks

job_kwargs = dict(chunk_duration='1s', n_jobs=8, progress_bar=True)

peak_locations = localize_peaks(recording=recording, peaks=peaks, method='center_of_mass',
                                radius_um=70., ms_before=0.3, ms_after=0.6,

Currently, the following methods are implemented:

  • ‘center_of_mass’

  • ‘monopolar_triangulation’ with optimizer=’least_square’ This method is from Julien Boussard and Erdem Varol from the Paninski lab. This has been presented at NeurIPS see also here

  • ‘monopolar_triangulation’ with optimizer=’minimize_with_log_penality’

These methods are the same as implemented in spikeinterface.postprocessing.unit_localization

The output peak_locations is a 1d NumPy array with a dtype that depends on the chosen method.

For instance, the ‘monopolar_triangulation’ method will have:

localization_dtype = [('x', 'float64'),  ('y', 'float64'), ('z', 'float64'), ('alpha', 'float64')]


By convention in SpikeInterface, when a probe is described in 3d
  • ‘x’ is the width of the probe

  • ‘y’ is the depth

  • ‘z’ is orthogonal to the probe plane

Peak selection

When too many peaks are detected a strategy can be used to select (or sub-sample) only some of them before clustering. This is the strategy used by spyking-circus and tridesclous, for instance. Then, clustering is run on this subset of peaks, templates are extracted, and a template-matching step is run to find all spikes.

The way the peak vector is reduced (or sub-sampled) is a crucial step because units with small firing rates can be hidden by this process.

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_detection import detect_peaks

many_peaks = detect_peaks(...) # as in above example

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_selection import select_peaks

some_peaks = select_peaks(peaks=many_peaks, method='uniform', n_peaks=10000)

Implemented methods are the following:

  • ‘uniform’

  • ‘uniform_locations’

  • ‘smart_sampling_amplitudes’

  • ‘smart_sampling_locations’

  • ‘smart_sampling_locations_and_time’

Motion estimation

Recently, drift estimation has been added to some of the available spike sorters (Kilosort 2.5, 3) Especially for Neuropixels-like probes, this is a crucial step.

Several methods have been proposed to correct for drift, but only one is currently implemented in SpikeInterface. See Decentralized Motion Inference and Registration of Neuropixel Data for more details.

The motion estimation step comes after peak detection and peak localization. The idea is to divide the recording into time bins and estimate the relative motion between temporal bins.

This method has two options:

  • rigid drift : one motion vector is estimated for the entire probe

  • non-rigid drift : one motion vector is estimated per depth bin

Here is an example with non-rigid motion estimation:

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_detection import detect_peaks
peaks = detect_peaks(recording=recording, ...) # as in above example

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_localization import localize_peaks
peak_locations = localize_peaks(recording=recording, peaks=peaks, ...) # as above

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.motion_estimation import estimate_motion
motion, temporal_bins, spatial_bins,
            extra_check = estimate_motion(recording=recording, peaks=peaks, peak_locations=peak_locations,
                                          direction='y', bin_duration_s=10., bin_um=10., margin_um=0.,
                                          rigid=False, win_shape='gaussian', win_step_um=50., win_sigma_um=150.,
                                          progress_bar=True, verbose=True)

In this example, because it is a non-rigid estimation, motion is a 2d array (num_time_bins, num_spatial_bins).

Motion interpolation

The estimated motion can be used to interpolate traces, in other words, for drift correction. One possible way is to make an interpolation sample-by-sample to compensate for the motion. The InterpolateMotionRecording is a preprocessing step doing this. This preprocessing is lazy, so that interpolation is done on-the-fly. However, the class needs the “motion vector” as input, which requires a relatively long computation (peak detection, localization and motion estimation).

Here is a short example that depends on the output of “Motion interpolation”:

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.motion_interpolation import InterpolateMotionRecording

recording_corrected = InterpolateMotionRecording(recording=recording_with_drift, motion=motion, temporal_bins=temporal_bins, spatial_bins=spatial_bins
  • spatial_interpolation_method “kriging” or “iwd” do not play a big role.

  • border_mode is a very important parameter. It controls dealing with the border because motion causes units on the border to not be present throughout the entire recording. We highly recommend the border_mode='remove_channels' because this removes channels on the border that will be impacted by drift. Of course the larger the motion is the greater the number of channels that would be removed.


The clustering step remains the central step of spike sorting. Historically this step was separated into two distinct parts: feature reduction and clustering. In SpikeInterface, we decided to regroup these two steps into the same module. This allows one to compute feature reduction ‘on-the-fly’ and avoid long computations and storage of large features.

The clustering step takes the recording and detected (and optionally selected) peaks as input and returns a label for every peak.

At the moment, the implemention is quite experimental. These methods have been implemented:

  • “position_clustering”: use HDBSCAN on peak locations.
  • “sliding_hdbscan”: clustering approach from tridesclous, with sliding spatial windows. PCA and HDBSCAN are run
    on local/sparse waveforms.
  • “position_pca_clustering”: this method tries to use peak locations for a first clustering step and then perform
    further splits using PCA + HDBSCAN

Different methods may need different inputs (for instance some of them require peak locations and some do not).

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_detection import detect_peaks
peaks = detect_peaks(recording, ...) # as in above example

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.clustering import find_cluster_from_peaks
labels, peak_labels = find_cluster_from_peaks(recording=recording, peaks=peaks, method="sliding_hdbscan")
  • labels : contains all possible labels

  • peak_labels : vector with the same size as peaks containing the label for each peak

Template matching

Template matching is the final step used in many sorters (Kilosort, SpyKING-Circus, YASS, Tridesclous, HDsort…)

In this step, from a given catalogue (or dictionary) of templates (or atoms), the algorithms try to explain the traces as a linear sum of a template plus a residual noise.

At the moment, there are five methods implemented:

  • ‘naive’: a very naive implemenation used as a reference for benchmarks

  • ‘tridesclous’: the algorithm for template matching implemented in Tridesclous

  • ‘circus’: the algorithm for template matching implemented in SpyKING-Circus

  • ‘circus-omp’: a updated algorithm similar to SpyKING-Circus but with OMP (orthogonal matching pursuit)

  • ‘wobble’ : an algorithm loosely based on YASS that scales template amplitudes and shifts them in time to match detected spikes

Preliminary benchmarks suggest that:
  • ‘circus-omp’ is very accurate, but a bit slow.

  • ‘tridesclous’ is the fastest with decent accuracy

  • ‘wobble’ is much faster and a bit more accurate than ‘circus-omp’