Dis-inhibitory neuronal circuits can control the sign of synaptic plasticity

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Julian Rossbroich, Friedemann Zenke


How neuronal circuits achieve credit assignment remains a central unsolved question in systems neuroscience. Various studies have suggested plausible solutions for back-propagating error signals through multi-layer networks. These purely functionally motivated models assume distinct neuronal compartments to represent local error signals that determine the sign of synaptic plasticity. However, this explicit error modulation is inconsistent with phenomenological plasticity models in which the sign depends primarily on postsynaptic activity. Here we show how a plausible microcircuit model and Hebbian learning rule derived within an adaptive control theory framework can resolve this discrepancy. Assuming errors are encoded in top-down dis-inhibitory synaptic afferents, we show that error-modulated learning emerges naturally at the circuit level when recurrent inhibition explicitly influences Hebbian plasticity. The same learning rule accounts for experimentally observed plasticity in the absence of inhibition and performs comparably to back-propagation of error (BP) on several non-linearly separable benchmarks. Our findings bridge the gap between functional and experimentally observed plasticity rules and make concrete predictions on inhibitory modulation of excitatory plasticity.