Homeostatic Activity-Dependent Tuning of Recurrent Networks for Robust Propagation of Activity

Gjorgjieva, Julijana ; Evers, Jan Felix ; Eglen, Stephen John (2016-03-30)


Developing neuronal networks display spontaneous bursts of action potentials that are necessary for circuit organization and tuning. While spontaneous activity has been shown to instruct map formation in sensory circuits, it is unknown whether it plays a role in the organization of motor networks that produce rhythmic output. Using computational modeling, we investigate how recurrent networks of excitatory and inhibitory neuronal populations assemble to produce robust patterns of unidirectional and precisely timed propagating activity during organism locomotion. One example is provided by the motor network in $\textit{Drosophila}$ larvae, which generates propagating peristaltic waves of muscle contractions during crawling. We examine two activity-dependent models, which tune weak network connectivity based on spontaneous activity patterns: a Hebbian model, where coincident activity in neighboring populations strengthens connections between them; and a homeostatic model, where connections are homeostatically regulated to maintain a constant level of excitatory activity based on spontaneous input. The homeostatic model successfully tunes network connectivity to generate robust activity patterns with appropriate timing relationships between neighboring populations. These timing relationships can be modulated by the properties of spontaneous activity, suggesting its instructive role for generating functional variability in network output. In contrast, the Hebbian model fails to produce the tight timing relationships between neighboring populations required for unidirectional activity propagation, even when additional assumptions are imposed to constrain synaptic growth. These results argue that homeostatic mechanisms are more likely than Hebbian mechanisms to tune weak connectivity based on spontaneous input in a recurrent network for rhythm generation and robust activity propagation.