Neurons Equipped with Intrinsic Plasticity Learn Stimulus Intensity Statistics

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 29 (NIPS 2016)

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Travis Monk, Cristina Savin, Jörg Lücke


Experience constantly shapes neural circuits through a variety of plasticity mechanisms. While the functional roles of some plasticity mechanisms are well-understood, it remains unclear how changes in neural excitability contribute to learning. Here, we develop a normative interpretation of intrinsic plasticity (IP) as a key component of unsupervised learning. We introduce a novel generative mixture model that accounts for the class-specific statistics of stimulus intensities, and we derive a neural circuit that learns the input classes and their intensities. We will analytically show that inference and learning for our generative model can be achieved by a neural circuit with intensity-sensitive neurons equipped with a specific form of IP. Numerical experiments verify our analytical derivations and show robust behavior for artificial and natural stimuli. Our results link IP to non-trivial input statistics, in particular the statistics of stimulus intensities for classes to which a neuron is sensitive. More generally, our work paves the way toward new classification algorithms that are robust to intensity variations.