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Competitive Hebbian learning through spike-timing-dependent synaptic plasticity


Hebbian models of development and learning require both activity-dependent synaptic plasticity and a mechanism that induces competition between different synapses. One form of experimentally observed long-term synaptic plasticity, which we call spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP), depends on the relative timing of pre- and postsynaptic action potentials. In modeling studies, we find that this form of synaptic modification can automatically balance synaptic strengths to make postsynaptic firing irregular but more sensitive to presynaptic spike timing. It has been argued that neurons in vivo operate in such a balanced regime. Synapses modifiable by STDP compete for control of the timing of postsynaptic action potentials. Inputs that fire the postsynaptic neuron with short latency or that act in correlated groups are able to compete most successfully and develop strong synapses, while synapses of longer-latency or less-effective inputs are weakened.

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Figure 1: The STDP modification function.
Figure 2: Balanced excitation and irregular firing produced by STDP.
Figure 3: Correlation between pre- and postsynaptic action potentials before and after STDP.
Figure 4: Reduction of latency by STDP.
Figure 5: Effects of input correlation, firing rate or variability on steady-state peak synaptic conductances.


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Research supported by the Sloan Center for Theoretical Neurobiology at Brandeis University, the National Science Foundation (IBN-9817194), the National Institute of Mental Health (MH58754) and the W.M. Keck Foundation (L.F.A.); a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellowship (S.S.); and by R01-EY11001 from the National Eye Institute and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (K.D.M.). We thank Todd Troyer for discussions.

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Correspondence to L. F. Abbott.

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Song, S., Miller, K. & Abbott, L. Competitive Hebbian learning through spike-timing-dependent synaptic plasticity. Nat Neurosci 3, 919–926 (2000).

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