Kexin Chen, Michael Beyeler, Jeffrey L. Krichmar Journal of Neuroscience
The nervous system is under tight energy constraints and must represent information efficiently. This is particularly relevant in the dorsal part of the medial superior temporal area (MSTd) in primates where neurons encode complex motion patterns in order to support a variety of behaviors. A sparse decomposition model based on a dimensionality reduction principle known as Nonnegative Matrix Factorization (NMF) was previously shown to account for a wide range of monkey MSTd visual response properties. This model resulted in sparse, “parts-based” representations that could be regarded as basis flow fields, a linear superposition of which accurately reconstructed the input stimuli. This model provided evidence that the seemingly-complex response properties of MSTd may be a by-product of MSTd neurons performing dimensionality reduction on their input. However, an open question is how a neural circuit could carry out this function. In the current study, we propose a Spiking Neural Network (SNN) model of MSTd based on evolved spike-timing dependent plasticity and homeostatic synaptic scaling (STDP-H) learning rules. We demonstrate that the SNN model learns compressed and efficient representations of the input patterns similar to the patterns that emerge from NMF, resulting in MSTd-like receptive fields observed in monkeys. This SNN model suggests that STDP-H observed in the nervous system may be performing a similar function as NMF with sparsity constraints, which provides a test bed for mechanistic theories of how MSTd may efficiently encode complex patterns of visual motion to support robust self-motion perception.