Perception of supraliminal stimuli might in general be reflected in bursts of action potentials (spikes), and their memory traces could be formed through spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP). Memory traces for subliminal stimuli might be formed in a different manner, because subliminal stimulation evokes a fraction (but not a burst) of spikes. Simulations of a cortical neural network model showed that a subliminal stimulus that was too brief (10 msec) to perceive transiently (more than about 500 msec) depolarized stimulus-relevant principal cells and hyperpolarized stimulus-irrelevant principal cells in a subthreshold manner. This led to a small increase or decrease in ongoing-spontaneous spiking activity frequency (less than 1 Hz). Synaptic modification based on STDP during this period effectively enhanced relevant synaptic weights, by which subliminal learning was improved. GABA transporters on GABAergic interneurons modulated local levels of ambient GABA. Ambient GABA molecules acted on extrasynaptic receptors, provided principal cells with tonic inhibitory currents, and contributed to achieving the subthreshold neuronal state. We suggest that ongoing-spontaneous synaptic alteration through STDP following subliminal stimulation may be a possible neuronal mechanism for leaving its memory trace in cortical circuitry. Regulation of local ambient GABA levels by transporter-mediated GABA import and export may be crucial for subliminal learning.

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