Systematic temporal relations between single neuronal activities or population activities are ubiquitous in the brain. No experimental evidence, however, exists for a direct modification of neuronal delays during Hebbian-type stimulation protocols. We show that in fact an explicit delay adaptation is not needed if one assumes that the synaptic strengths are modified according to the recently observed temporally asymmetric learning rule with the downregulating branch dominating the upregulating branch. During development, slow, unbiased fluctuations in the transmission time, together with temporally correlated network activity, may control neural growth and implicitly induce drifts in the axonal delays and dendritic latencies. These delays and latencies become optimally tuned in the sense that the synaptic response tends to peak in the soma of the postsynaptic cell if this is most likely to fire. The nature of the selection process requires unreliable synapses in order to give successful synapses an evolutionary advantage over the others. The width of the learning function also determines the preferred dendritic delay and the preferred width of the postsynaptic response. Hence, it may implicitly determine whether a synaptic connection provides a precisely timed or a broadly tuned “contextual” signal.

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