Refinement and Pattern Formation in Neural Circuits by the Interaction of Traveling Waves with Spike-Timing Dependent Plasticity

PLoS Comput Biol. 2015 Aug 26;11(8):e1004422. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004422. eCollection 2015 Aug.


Traveling waves in the developing brain are a prominent source of highly correlated spiking activity that may instruct the refinement of neural circuits. A candidate mechanism for mediating such refinement is spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP), which translates correlated activity patterns into changes in synaptic strength. To assess the potential of these phenomena to build useful structure in developing neural circuits, we examined the interaction of wave activity with STDP rules in simple, biologically plausible models of spiking neurons. We derive an expression for the synaptic strength dynamics showing that, by mapping the time dependence of STDP into spatial interactions, traveling waves can build periodic synaptic connectivity patterns into feedforward circuits with a broad class of experimentally observed STDP rules. The spatial scale of the connectivity patterns increases with wave speed and STDP time constants. We verify these results with simulations and demonstrate their robustness to likely sources of noise. We show how this pattern formation ability, which is analogous to solutions of reaction-diffusion systems that have been widely applied to biological pattern formation, can be harnessed to instruct the refinement of postsynaptic receptive fields. Our results hold for rich, complex wave patterns in two dimensions and over several orders of magnitude in wave speeds and STDP time constants, and they provide predictions that can be tested under existing experimental paradigms. Our model generalizes across brain areas and STDP rules, allowing broad application to the ubiquitous occurrence of traveling waves and to wave-like activity patterns induced by moving stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cats
  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Ferrets
  • Mice
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Retina / growth & development
  • Retina / physiology