D Festa, G Hennequin, and M Lengyel
The persistent and graded activity often observed in cortical circuits is sometimes seen as a signature of autoassociative retrieval of memories stored earlier in synaptic efficacies. However, despite decades of theoretical work on the subject, the mechanisms that support the storage and retrieval of memories remain unclear. Previous proposals concerning the dynamics of memory networks have fallen short of incorporating some key physiological constraints in a unified way. Specifically, some models violate Dale’s law (i.e. allow neurons to be both excitatory and inhibitory), while some others restrict the representation of memories to a binary format, or induce recall states in which some neurons fire at rates close to saturation. We propose a novel control-theoretic framework to build functioning attractor networks that satisfy a set of relevant physiological constraints. We directly optimize networks of excitatory and inhibitory neurons to force sets of arbitrary analog patterns to become stable fixed points of the dynamics. The resulting networks operate in the balanced regime, are robust to corruptions of the memory cue as well as to ongoing noise, and incidentally explain the reduction of trial-to-trial variability following stimulus onset that is ubiquitously observed in sensory and motor cortices. Our results constitute a step forward in our under- standing of the neural substrate of memory.