In response to a changing sensory environment, sensory systems adjust their neural code for a number of purposes, including an enhanced sensitivity for novel stimuli, prediction of sensory features, and the maintenance of sensitivity. Retinal sensitization is a form of short-term plasticity that elevates local sensitivity following strong, local, visual stimulation and has been shown to create a prediction of the presence of a nearby localized object. The neural mechanism that generates this elevation in sensitivity remains unknown. Using simultaneous intracellular and multielectrode recording in the salamander retina, we show that a decrease in tonic amacrine transmission is necessary for and is correlated spatially and temporally with ganglion cell sensitization. Furthermore, introducing a decrease in amacrine transmission is sufficient to sensitize nearby ganglion cells. A computational model accounting for adaptive dynamics and nonlinear pathways confirms a decrease in steady inhibitory transmission can cause sensitization. Adaptation of inhibition enhances the sensitivity to the sensory feature conveyed by an inhibitory pathway, creating a prediction of future input.
Keywords: adaptation; computational model; information processing; inhibition; neural circuit; visual system.
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