Our ability to perceive external sensory stimuli improves as we experience the same stimulus repeatedly. This perceptual enhancement, called perceptual learning, has been demonstrated for various sensory systems, such as vision, audition, and somatosensation. I investigated the contribution of lateral excitatory and inhibitory synaptic balance to perceptual learning. I constructed a simple associative neural network model in which sensory features were expressed by the activities of specific cell assemblies. Each neuron is sensitive to a specific sensory feature, and the neurons belonging to the same cell assembly are sensitive to the same feature. During perceptual learning processes, the network was presented repeatedly with a stimulus that was composed of a sensory feature and noise, and the lateral excitatory and inhibitory synaptic connection strengths between neurons were modified according to a pulse-timing-based Hebbian rule. Perceptual learning enhanced the cognitive performance of the network, increasing the signal-to-noise ratio of neuronal activity. I suggest here that the alteration of the synaptic balance may be essential for perceptual learning, especially when the brain tries to adopt the most suitable strategy—signal enhancement, noise reduction, or both—for a given perceptual task.

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