The applicability of spike time dependent plasticity to development

Daniel A. Butts, Patrick O. Kanold

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Spike time dependent plasticity (STDP) has been observed in both developing and adult animals. Theoretical studies suggest that it implicitly leads to both competition and homeostasis in addition to correlation-based plasticity, making it a good candidate to explain developmental refinement and plasticity in a number of systems. However, it has only been observed to play a clear role in development in a small number of cases. Because the fast time scales necessary to elicit STDP, it would likely be inefficient in governing synaptic modifications in the absence of fast correlations in neural activity. In contrast, later stages of development often depend on sensory inputs that can drive activity on much faster time scales, suggesting a role in STDP in many sensory systems after opening of the eyes and ear canals. Correlations on fast time scales can be also be present earlier in developing microcircuits, such as those produced by specific transient "teacher" circuits in the cerebral cortex. By reviewing examples of each case, we suggest that STDP is not a universal rule, but rather might be masked or phased in, depending on the information available to instruct refinement in different developing circuits. Thus, this review describes selected cases where STDP has been studied in developmental contexts, and uses these examples to suggest a more general framework for understanding where it could be playing a role in development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 30
JournalFrontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Burst
  • Cortex
  • Microcircuit
  • Subplate
  • Teacher
  • Thalamus
  • Timescale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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