In earlier work we presented a stochastic model of spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) in which STDP emerges only at the level of temporal or spatial synaptic ensembles. We derived the two-spike interaction function from this model and showed that it exhibits an STDP-like form. Here, we extend this work by examining the general n-spike interaction functions that may be derived from the model. A comparison between the two-spike interaction function and the higher-order interaction functions reveals profound differences. In particular, we show that the two-spike interaction function cannot support stable, competitive synaptic plasticity, such as that seen during neuronal development, without including modifications designed specifically to stabilize its behavior. In contrast, we show that all the higher-order interaction functions exhibit a fixed-point structure consistent with the presence of competitive synaptic dynamics. This difference originates in the unification of our proposed “switch” mechanism for synaptic plasticity, coupling synaptic depression and synaptic potentiation processes together. While three or more spikes are required to probe this coupling, two spikes can never do so. We conclude that this coupling is critical to the presence of competitive dynamics and that multispike interactions are therefore vital to understanding synaptic competition.

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