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A plethora of experimental studies have shown that long-term synaptic plasticity can be expressed pre- or postsynaptically depending on a range of factors such as developmental stage, synapse type, and activity patterns. The functional consequences of this diversity are not clear, although it is understood that whereas postsynaptic expression of plasticity predominantly affects synaptic response amplitude, presynaptic expression alters both synaptic response amplitude and short-term dynamics. In most models of neuronal learning, long-term synaptic plasticity is implemented as changes in connective weights. The consideration of long-term plasticity as a fixed change in amplitude corresponds more closely to post- than to presynaptic expression, which means theoretical outcomes based on this choice of implementation may have a postsynaptic bias. To explore the functional implications of the diversity of expression of long-term synaptic plasticity, we adapted a model of long-term plasticity, more specifically spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP), such that it was expressed either independently pre- or postsynaptically, or in a mixture of both ways. We compared pair-based standard STDP models and a biologically tuned triplet STDP model, and investigated the outcomes in a minimal setting, using two different learning schemes: in the first, inputs were triggered at different latencies, and in the second a subset of inputs were temporally correlated. We found that presynaptic changes adjusted the speed of learning, while postsynaptic expression was more efficient at regulating spike timing and frequency. When combining both expression loci, postsynaptic changes amplified the response range, while presynaptic plasticity allowed control over postsynaptic firing rates, potentially providing a form of activity homeostasis. Our findings highlight how the seemingly innocuous choice of implementing synaptic plasticity by single weight modification may unwittingly introduce a postsynaptic bias in modelling outcomes. We conclude that pre- and postsynaptically expressed plasticity are not interchangeable, but enable complimentary functions.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS Comput Biol

Publication Date





Action Potentials, Learning, Models, Neurological, Neuronal Plasticity, Neurons, Synapses