Homeostatic Plasticity and STDP: Keeping a Neuron's Cool in a Fluctuating World

Front Synaptic Neurosci. 2010 Jun 7;2:5. doi: 10.3389/fnsyn.2010.00005. eCollection 2010.


Spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) offers a powerful means of forming and modifying neural circuits. Experimental and theoretical studies have demonstrated its potential usefulness for functions as varied as cortical map development, sharpening of sensory receptive fields, working memory, and associative learning. Even so, it is unlikely that STDP works alone. Unless changes in synaptic strength are coordinated across multiple synapses and with other neuronal properties, it is difficult to maintain the stability and functionality of neural circuits. Moreover, there are certain features of early postnatal development (e.g., rapid changes in sensory input) that threaten neural circuit stability in ways that STDP may not be well placed to counter. These considerations have led researchers to investigate additional types of plasticity, complementary to STDP, that may serve to constrain synaptic weights and/or neuronal firing. These are collectively known as "homeostatic plasticity" and include schemes that control the total synaptic strength of a neuron, that modulate its intrinsic excitability as a function of average activity, or that make the ability of synapses to undergo Hebbian modification depend upon their history of use. In this article, we will review the experimental evidence for homeostatic forms of plasticity and consider how they might interact with STDP during development, and learning and memory.

Keywords: BCM; LTD; LTP; STDP; homeostatic plasticity; intrinsic plasticity; stability; synaptic scaling.