Colin Bredenberg, Eero Simoncelli, Cristina Savin
Neural populations encode the sensory world imperfectly: their capacity is limited by the number of neurons, availability of metabolic and other biophysical resources, and intrinsic noise. The brain is presumably shaped by these limitations, improving efficiency by discarding some aspects of incoming sensory streams, while preferentially preserving commonly occurring, behaviorally-relevant information. Here we construct a stochastic recurrent neural circuit model that can learn efficient, task-specific sensory codes using a novel form of reward-modulated Hebbian synaptic plasticity. We illustrate the flexibility of the model by training an initially unstructured neural network to solve two different tasks: stimulus estimation, and stimulus discrimination. The network achieves high performance in both tasks by appropriately allocating resources and using its recurrent circuitry to best compensate for different levels of noise. We also show how the interaction between stimulus priors and task structure dictates the emergent network representations.