Theory of optimal balance predicts and explains the amplitude and decay time of synaptic inhibition

Nat Commun. 2017 Mar 10;8:14566. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14566.


Synaptic inhibition counterbalances excitation, but it is not known what constitutes optimal inhibition. We previously proposed that perfect balance is achieved when the peak of an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) is exactly at spike threshold, so that the slightest variation in excitation determines whether a spike is generated. Using simulations, we show that the optimal inhibitory postsynaptic conductance (IPSG) increases in amplitude and decay rate as synaptic excitation increases from 1 to 800 Hz. As further proposed by theory, we show that optimal IPSG parameters can be learned through anti-Hebbian rules. Finally, we compare our theoretical optima to published experimental data from 21 types of neurons, in which rates of synaptic excitation and IPSG decay times vary by factors of about 100 (5-600 Hz) and 50 (1-50 ms), respectively. From an infinite range of possible decay times, theory predicted experimental decay times within less than a factor of 2. Across a distinct set of 15 types of neuron recorded in vivo, theory predicted the amplitude of synaptic inhibition within a factor of 1.7. Thus, the theory can explain biophysical quantities from first principles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials*
  • Homeostasis
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons / physiology*