Neural activity during cognitive tasks exhibits complex dynamics that flexibly encode task-relevant variables. Chaotic recurrent networks, which spontaneously generate rich dynamics, have been proposed as a model of cortical computation during cognitive tasks. However, existing methods for training these networks are either biologically implausible, and/or require a continuous, real-time error signal to guide learning. Here we show that a biologically plausible learning rule can train such recurrent networks, guided solely by delayed, phasic rewards at the end of each trial. Networks endowed with this learning rule can successfully learn nontrivial tasks requiring flexible (context-dependent) associations, memory maintenance, nonlinear mixed selectivities, and coordination among multiple outputs. The resulting networks replicate complex dynamics previously observed in animal cortex, such as dynamic encoding of task features and selective integration of sensory inputs. We conclude that recurrent neural networks offer a plausible model of cortical dynamics during both learning and performance of flexible behavior.
Keywords: cognition; computational biology; computational neuroscience; learning; modeling; neuroscience; none; recurrent neural networks; systems biology.