The richness and complexity of recurrent cortical circuits is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for thinking about high-level biological computation. In past theoretical studies, constraints on the synaptic connection patterns of threshold-linear networks were found that guaranteed bounded network dynamics, convergence to attractive fixed points, and multistability, all fundamental aspects of cortical information processing. However, these conditions were only sufficient, and it remained unclear which were the minimal (necessary) conditions for convergence and multistability.

We show that symmetric threshold-linear networks converge to a set of attractive fixed points if and only if the network matrix is copositive. Furthermore, the set of attractive fixed points is nonconnected (the network is multiattractive) if and only if the network matrix is not positive semidefinite. There are permitted sets of neurons that can be coactive at a stable steady state and forbidden sets that cannot. Permitted sets are clustered in the sense that subsets of permitted sets are permitted and supersets of forbidden sets are forbidden. By viewing permitted sets as memories stored in the synaptic connections, we provide a formulation of long-term memory that is more general than the traditional perspective of fixed-point attractor networks. There is a close correspondence between threshold-linear networks and networks defined by the generalized Lotka-Volterra equations.

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