STDP forms associations between memory traces in networks of spiking neurons

Christoph Pokorny, Matias J. Ison, Arjun Rao, Robert Legenstein, Wolfgang Maass, Christos Papadimitriou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Memory traces and associations between them are fundamental for cognitive brain function. Neuron recordings suggest that distributed assemblies of neurons in the brain serve as memory traces for spatial information, real-world items, and concepts. However, there is conflicting evidence regarding neural codes for associated memory traces. Some studies suggest the emergence of overlaps between assemblies during an association, while others suggest that the assemblies themselves remain largely unchanged and new assemblies emerge as neural codes for associated memory items. Here we study the emergence of neural codes for associated memory items in a generic computational model of recurrent networks of spiking neurons with a data-constrained rule for spike-timing-dependent plasticity. The model depends critically on 2 parameters, which control the excitability of neurons and the scale of initial synaptic weights. By modifying these 2 parameters, the model can reproduce both experimental data from the human brain on the fast formation of associations through emergent overlaps between assemblies, and rodent data where new neurons are recruited to encode the associated memories. Hence, our findings suggest that the brain can use both of these 2 neural codes for associations, and dynamically switch between them during consolidation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)952-968
Number of pages17
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • associations
  • memory traces
  • neural coding
  • spiking neurons
  • STDP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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