Models of unsupervised, correlation-based (Hebbian) synaptic plasticity are typically unstable: either all synapses grow until each reaches the maximum allowed strength, or all synapses decay to zero strength. A common method of avoiding these outcomes is to use a constraint that conserves or limits the total synaptic strength over a cell. We study the dynamic effects of such constraints.

Two methods of enforcing a constraint are distinguished, multiplicative and subtractive. For otherwise linear learning rules, multiplicative enforcement of a constraint results in dynamics that converge to the principal eigenvector of the operator determining unconstrained synaptic development. Subtractive enforcement, in contrast, typically leads to a final state in which almost all synaptic strengths reach either the maximum or minimum allowed value. This final state is often dominated by weight configurations other than the principal eigenvector of the unconstrained operator. Multiplicative enforcement yields a “graded” receptive field in which most mutually correlated inputs are represented, whereas subtractive enforcement yields a receptive field that is “sharpened” to a subset of maximally correlated inputs. If two equivalent input populations (e.g., two eyes) innervate a common target, multiplicative enforcement prevents their segregation (ocular dominance segregation) when the two populations are weakly correlated; whereas subtractive enforcement allows segregation under these circumstances.

These results may be used to understand constraints both over output cells and over input cells. A variety of rules that can implement constrained dynamics are discussed.

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