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Wulfram Gerstner: Synaptic multi-factor learning rules

© 2010 EPFL

© 2010 EPFL

The excellence of the research performed at EPFL has once again been recognized at an international level. Wulfram Gerstner has received an ADVANCED GRANT 2010 from the European Research Council (ERC).

Synaptic multi-factor learning rules: from action potentials to behaviour

If we are ever to unravel the mysteries of learning, we need a strong theoretical framework that will enable us to trace behavioural properties of memory formation and action learning back to rules for changes of synaptic connections. Experiments on the cell and microcircuit level need hypothesis from theory in order to drive the experimental search for plasticity rules and organize the vast amount of data collected in different labs across Europe and the world. Potential links between synaptic plasticity rules and behavioural outcomes need to be established by mathematical analysis and computer simulation on the systems level, and could ultimately also lead to novel therapeutical approaches.Both theoretical and experimental approaches to synaptic plasticity have been dominated, in the past 30 years, by Hebb's rule but the Hebbian framework is a limitation, because it focuses only on two factors: the activity of the presynaptic (sending) neuron and that of the postsynaptic (receiving) one. Hence it neglects additional factors, such as non-specific neuromodulators or global activity states of brain areas. Only very recently a few experiments have appeared that study STDP in the presence of neuromodulators.

This project will break with the preoccupation of Hebbian rules, and formulate and study rules of synaptic plasticity that combine the two Hebbian activity factors with one or multiple global factors. With the new theoretical framework for multi-factor learning rules, to be developed in this project, it should be possible to guide the design of novel experiments so that experimental paradigms probe parameters that are relevant for learning. The mathematical approach should lead to predictions for functional outcomes of learning on the behavioural level, and possibly provide novel strategies for learning of new memories, or unlearning of unpleasant ones.

Max ERC funding: 2.45 million Euros
Duration: 60 months
Host institution: EPFL
Project acronym: MULTIRULES
Domain: Life sciences