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Strong inhibitory signaling underlies stable temporal dynamics and working memory in spiking neural networks


Cortical neurons process information on multiple timescales, and areas important for working memory (WM) contain neurons capable of integrating information over a long timescale. However, the underlying mechanisms for the emergence of neuronal timescales stable enough to support WM are unclear. By analyzing a spiking recurrent neural network model trained on a WM task and activity of single neurons in the primate prefrontal cortex, we show that the temporal properties of our model and the neural data are remarkably similar. Dissecting our recurrent neural network model revealed strong inhibitory-to-inhibitory connections underlying a disinhibitory microcircuit as a critical component for long neuronal timescales and WM maintenance. We also found that enhancing inhibitory-to-inhibitory connections led to more stable temporal dynamics and improved task performance. Finally, we show that a network with such microcircuitry can perform other tasks without disrupting its pre-existing timescale architecture, suggesting that strong inhibitory signaling underlies a flexible WM network.

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Fig. 1: RNN model and experimental data.
Fig. 2: RNN model trained on the DMS task and the dlPFC data contain units with long timescales.
Fig. 3: Long τ units maintain cue stimulus information during the delay period robustly.
Fig. 4: Inhibitory synaptic weights lead to task-specific timescales.
Fig. 5: I → I connectivity strength strongly mediates both neuronal timescales and task performance.
Fig. 6: Two oppositely tuned inhibitory subgroups mutually inhibit each other for WM maintenance.
Fig. 7: High trial-to-trial spike-count variability during fixation corresponds to long neuronal timescale.
Fig. 8: Strong I → I connections might be intrinsic to prefrontal cortex.

Data availability

The trained RNN models used in the present study are deposited as MATLAB-formatted data in Open Science Framework, The experimental data used in the study can be obtained from Constantinidis et al.21.

Code availability

The code for the analyses performed in this work is available at


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We are grateful to B. Tsuda, Y. Chen and J. Fleischer for helpful discussions and feedback on the manuscript. We also thank J. Aldana for assistance with computing resources. This work was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (grant no. F30MH115605-01A1 to R.K.). We also gratefully acknowledge the support of NVIDIA Corporation with the donation of the Quadro P6000 graphics processing unit used for this research. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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R.K. and T.J.S. designed the study and wrote the manuscript. R.K. performed the analyses and simulations.

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Correspondence to Robert Kim or Terrence J. Sejnowski.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Neuroscience thanks Dean Buonomano, Timothy Buschman, and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Kim, R., Sejnowski, T.J. Strong inhibitory signaling underlies stable temporal dynamics and working memory in spiking neural networks. Nat Neurosci 24, 129–139 (2021).

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