A well-known phenomenon in sensory perception is desensitization, wherein behavioral responses to persistent stimuli become attenuated over time. In this letter, our focus is on studying mechanisms through which desensitization may be mediated at the network level and, specifically, how sensitivity changes arise as a function of long-term plasticity. Our principal object of study is a generic isoinhibitory motif: a small excitatory-inhibitory network with recurrent inhibition. Such a motif is of interest due to its overrepresentation in laminar sensory network architectures. Here, we introduce a sensitivity analysis derived from control theory in which we characterize the fixed-energy reachable set of the motif. This set describes the regions of the phase-space that are more easily (in terms of stimulus energy) accessed, thus providing a holistic assessment of sensitivity. We specifically focus on how the geometry of this set changes due to repetitive application of a persistent stimulus. We find that for certain motif dynamics, this geometry contracts along the stimulus orientation while expanding in orthogonal directions. In other words, the motif not only desensitizes to the persistent input, but heightens its responsiveness (sensitizes) to those that are orthogonal. We develop a perturbation analysis that links this sensitization to both plasticity-induced changes in synaptic weights and the intrinsic dynamics of the network, highlighting that the effect is not purely due to weight-dependent disinhibition. Instead, this effect depends on the relative neuronal time constants and the consequent stimulus-induced drift that arises in the motif phase-space. For tightly distributed (but random) parameter ranges, sensitization is quite generic and manifests in larger recurrent E-I networks within which the motif is embedded.

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