The discrimination of complex auditory stimuli relies on the spatiotemporal structure of spike patterns arriving in the cortex. While recordings from auditory areas reveal that many neurons are highly selective to specific spatiotemporal stimuli, the mechanisms underlying this selectivity are unknown. Using computer simulations, we show that selectivity can emerge in neurons in an entirely unsupervised manner. The model is based on recurrently connected spiking neurons and synapses that exhibit short-term synaptic plasticity. During a developmental stage, spoken digits were presented to the network; the only type of long-term plasticity present was a form of homeostatic synaptic plasticity. From an initially unresponsive state, training generated a high percentage of neurons that responded selectively to individual digits. Furthermore, units within the network exhibited a cardinal feature of vocalization-sensitive neurons in vivo: differential responses between forward and reverse stimulus presentations. Direction selectivity deteriorated significantly, however, if short-term synaptic plasticity was removed. These results establish that a simple form of homeostatic plasticity is capable of guiding recurrent networks into regimes in which complex stimuli can be discriminated. In addition, one computational function of short-term synaptic plasticity may be to provide an inherent temporal asymmetry, thus contributing to the characteristic forward-reverse selectivity.

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