Circuit Motifs for Contrast-Adaptive Differentiation in Early Sensory Systems: The Role of Presynaptic Inhibition and Short-Term Plasticity

Circuit Motifs for Contrast-Adaptive Differentiation in Early Sensory Systems: The Role of Presynaptic Inhibition and Short-Term Plasticity

In natural signals, such as the luminance value across of a visual scene, abrupt changes in intensity value are often more relevant to an organism than intensity values at other positions and times. Thus to reduce redundancy, sensory systems are specialized to detect the times and amplitudes of informative abrupt changes in the input stream rather than coding the intensity values at all times. In theory, a system that responds transiently to fast changes is called a differentiator. In principle, several different neural circuit mechanisms exist that are capable of responding transiently to abrupt input changes. However, it is unclear which circuit would be best suited for early sensory systems, where the dynamic range of the natural input signals can be very wide. We here compare the properties of different simple neural circuit motifs for implementing signal differentiation. We found that a circuit motif based on presynaptic inhibition (PI) is unique in a sense that the vesicle resources in the presynaptic site can be stably maintained over a wide range of stimulus intensities, making PI a biophysically plausible mechanism to implement a differentiator with a very wide dynamical range. Moreover, by additionally considering short-term plasticity (STP), differentiation becomes contrast adaptive in the PI-circuit but not in other potential neural circuit motifs. Numerical simulations show that the behavior of the adaptive PI-circuit is consistent with experimental observations suggesting that adaptive presynaptic inhibition might be a good candidate neural mechanism to achieve differentiation in early sensory systems.

Zhang D, Wu S, Rasch MJ (2015) Circuit Motifs for Contrast-Adaptive Differentiation in Early Sensory Systems: The Role of Presynaptic Inhibition and Short-Term Plasticity. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0118125.