Skip to main content
  • Poster presentation
  • Open access
  • Published:

Capacity of networks to develop multiple attractors through STDP

Biological neural networks display much variation in form and structure, each specialized for the information-processing task at hand. It has been shown in many cases that the immature network must be exposed to the correct neural activity in order for the appropriate structure to develop. Understanding how early activity patterns determine network structure is a major question in developmental neuroscience today.

There are many plasticity mechanisms that are known to be activity dependent: neural growth, pruning, synaptogenesis, synaptic plasticity, modifications of membrane properties and neurotransmitter expression. We focus on synaptic plasticity, specifically, spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP). Experimental studies have found that STDP is present in developing systems [1, 2] and theoretical studies have shown that STDP is able to guide structural changes analogous to those seen in developing networks [35].

Networks with layered structures, each layer projecting forward onto the next, are able to produce precisely timed sequences of spikes. This type of structure is known as a synfire chain [68]. Theoretical studies have shown that an initially recurrent network of artificial neurons subjected to a repeating input can develop into a network with a layered structure when synapses are modified according to STDP [911].

Here we investigate how this previously proposed synfire development mechanism generalizes to systems with multiple inputs. We study a recurrent network consisting of a population of excitatory leaky integrate and fire neurons with background spontaneous activity and global inhibition. We demonstrate that when subjected to distinct inputs and STDP, such networks develop distinct synfire chains that respond to each input, reflecting the existence of multiple attractor states. We analyze the capacity of networks, addressing how the number of attractors and their properties scale. We also examine how the capacity of the network is related to the degree of overlap in the neuronal activity (between different synfire chains).


  1. Zhang LI, Tao HW, Holt CE, Harris WA, Poo M-M: A critical window for cooperation and competition among developing retinotectal synapses. Nature. 1998, 37-44.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Yangling M, Poo M-M: Timing-dependent LTP/LTD mediates visual experience-dependent plasticity in a developing retinotectal system. Neuron. 2006, 115-125.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Leibold C, Kempter R, van Hemmen J: Temporal map formation in the barn owls brain. Physical Review Letters. 87: 248105.

  4. Young J, Waleszczyk W, Wang C, Calford M, Dreher B, Obermayer K: Cortical reorganization consistent with spike timing-but not correlation-dependent plasticity. Nature Neuroscience. 2007, 10: 887-895. 10.1038/nn1913.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Fontaine B, Peremans : Tuning bat LSO neurons to interaural intensity differences through spike-timing dependent plasticity. Biological Cybernetics. 97: 261-267. 10.1007/s00422-007-0178-9.

  6. Abeles M: Corticonics. 1991, Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  7. Diesmann M, Gewaltig MO, Aertsen A: Stable propagation of synchronous spiking in cortical neural networks. Nature. 1999, 402: 529-533. 10.1038/990101.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Ikegaya Y, Aaron G, Cossart R, Aronov D, Lampl I, Ferster D, Yuste R: Synfire chains and cortical songs: Temporal modules of cortical activity. Science. 2004, 304: 559-564. 10.1126/science.1093173.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Hosaka R, Araki O, Ikeguchi T: STDP provides the substrate for igniting synfire chains. Neural Computation. 2008, 20: 415-435. 10.1162/neco.2007.11-05-043.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Jun J, Jin D: Development of neural circuitry for precise temporal sequences through spontaneous activity, axon remodeling, and synaptic plasticity. PLoS ONE. 2007, 2: e723-10.1371/journal.pone.0000723. xx 2007. 10.1371/journal.pone.0000723

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Masuda N, Kori H: Formation of feedforward networks and frequency synchrony by spike-timing-dependent plasticity. J Computational Neuroscience. 2007, 22: 327-345. 10.1007/s10827-007-0022-1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amelia Waddington.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Waddington, A., Cohen, N. Capacity of networks to develop multiple attractors through STDP. BMC Neurosci 10 (Suppl 1), P195 (2009).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: