Markram and Tsodyks, by showing that the elevated synaptic efficacy observed with single-pulse long-term potentiation (LTP) measurements disappears with higher-frequency test pulses, have critically challenged the conventional assumption that LTP reflects a general gain increase. This observed change in frequency dependence during synaptic potentiation is called redistribution of synaptic efficacy (RSE). RSE is here seen as the local realization of a global design principle in a neural network for pattern coding. The underlying computational model posits an adaptive threshold rather than a multiplicative weight as the elementary unit of long-term memory. A distributed instar learning law allows thresholds to increase only monotonically, but adaptation has a bidirectional effect on the model postsynaptic potential. At each synapse, threshold increases implement pattern selectivity via a frequency-dependent signal component, while a complementary frequency-independent component nonspecifically strengthens the path. This synaptic balance produces changes in frequency dependence that are robustly similar to those observed by Markram and Tsodyks. The network design therefore suggests a functional purpose for RSE, which, by helping to bound total memory change, supports a distributed coding scheme that is stable with fast as well as slow learning. Multiplicative weights have served as a cornerstone for models of physiological data and neural systems for decades. Although the model discussed here does not implement detailed physiology of synaptic transmission, its new learning laws operate in a network architecture that suggests how recently discovered synaptic computations such as RSE may help produce new network capabilities such as learning that is fast, stable, and distributed.

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