Memory maintenance in synapses with calcium-based plasticity in the presence of background activity.

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Most models of learning and memory assume that memories are maintained in neuronal circuits by persistent synaptic modifications induced by specific patterns of pre- and postsynaptic activity. For this scenario to be viable, synaptic modifications must survive the ubiquitous ongoing activity present in neural circuits in vivo. In this paper, we investigate the time scales of memory maintenance in a calcium-based synaptic plasticity model that has been shown recently to be able to fit different experimental data-sets from hippocampal and neocortical preparations. We find that in the presence of background activity on the order of 1 Hz parameters that fit pyramidal layer 5 neocortical data lead to a very fast decay of synaptic efficacy, with time scales of minutes. We then identify two ways in which this memory time scale can be extended: (i) the extracellular calcium concentration in the experiments used to fit the model are larger than estimated concentrations in vivo. Lowering extracellular calcium concentration to in vivo levels leads to an increase in memory time scales of several orders of magnitude; (ii) adding a bistability mechanism so that each synapse has two stable states at sufficiently low background activity leads to a further boost in memory time scale, since memory decay is no longer described by an exponential decay from an initial state, but by an escape from a potential well. We argue that both features are expected to be present in synapses in vivo. These results are obtained first in a single synapse connecting two independent Poisson neurons, and then in simulations of a large network of excitatory and inhibitory integrate-and-fire neurons. Our results emphasise the need for studying plasticity at physiological extracellular calcium concentration, and highlight the role of synaptic bi- or multistability in the stability of learned synaptic structures.





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Higgins, David, Michael Graupner and Nicolas Brunel (2014). Memory maintenance in synapses with calcium-based plasticity in the presence of background activity. PLoS Comput Biol, 10(10). p. e1003834. 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003834 Retrieved from

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Nicolas Brunel

Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience

We use theoretical models of brain systems to investigate how they process and learn information from their inputs. Our current work focuses on the mechanisms of learning and memory, from the synapse to the network level, in collaboration with various experimental groups. Using methods from
statistical physics, we have shown recently that the synaptic
connectivity of a network that maximizes storage capacity reproduces
two key experimentally observed features: low connection probability
and strong overrepresentation of bidirectionnally connected pairs of
neurons. We have also inferred `synaptic plasticity rules' (a
mathematical description of how synaptic strength depends on the
activity of pre and post-synaptic neurons) from data, and shown that
networks endowed with a plasticity rule inferred from data have a
storage capacity that is close to the optimal bound.

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