Bursts of activity in networks of neurons are thought to convey salient information and drive synaptic plasticity. Here we report that network bursts also exert a profound effect on Spike-Timing-Dependent Plasticity (STDP). In acute slices of juvenile rat somatosensory cortex we paired a network burst, which alone induced long-term depression (LTD), with STDP-induced long-term potentiation and depression (LTP and LTD). We observed that STDP-induced LTP was either unaffected, blocked or flipped into LTD by the network burst, and that STDP-induced LTD was either saturated or flipped into LTP, depending on the relative timing of the network burst with respect to spike coincidences of the STDP event. We hypothesized that network bursts flip STDP-induced LTP to LTD by depleting resources needed for LTP and therefore developed a resource-dependent STDP learning rule. In a model neural network under the influence of the proposed resource-dependent STDP rule, we found that excitatory synaptic coupling was homeostatically regulated to produce power law distributed burst amplitudes reflecting self-organized criticality, a state that ensures optimal information coding
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