Understanding the sequence generation and learning mechanisms used by recurrent neural networks in the nervous system is an important problem that has been studied extensively. However, most of the models proposed in the literature are either not compatible with neuroanatomy and neurophysiology experimental findings, or are not robust to noise and rely on fine tuning of the parameters. In this work, we propose a novel model of sequence learning and generation that is based on the interactions among multiple asymmetrically coupled winner-take-all (WTA) circuits. The network architecture is consistent with mammalian cortical connectivity data and uses realistic neuronal and synaptic dynamics that give rise to noise-robust patterns of sequential activity. The novel aspect of the network we propose lies in its ability to produce robust patterns of sequential activity that can be halted, resumed, and readily modulated by external input, and in its ability to make use of realistic plastic synapses to learn and reproduce the arbitrary input-imposed sequential patterns. Sequential activity takes the form of a single activity bump that stably propagates through multiple WTA circuits along one of a number of possible paths. Because the network can be configured to either generate spontaneous sequences or wait for external inputs to trigger a transition in the sequence, it provides the basis for creating state-dependent perception-action loops. We first analyze a rate-based approximation of the proposed spiking network to highlight the relevant features of the network dynamics and then show numerical simulation results with spiking neurons, realistic conductance-based synapses, and spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP) rules to validate the rate-based model.

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