Functional Requirements for Reward-Modulated Spike-Timing-Dependent Plasticity
Recent experiments have shown that spike-timing-dependent plasticity is influenced by neuromodulation. We derive theoretical conditions for successful learning of reward-related behavior for a large class of learning rules where Hebbian synaptic plasticity is conditioned on a global modulatory factor signaling reward. We show that all learning rules in this class can be separated into a term that captures the covariance of neuronal firing and reward and a second term that presents the influence of unsupervised learning. The unsupervised term, which is, in general, detrimental for reward-based learning, can be suppressed if the neuromodulatory signal encodes the difference between the reward and the expected reward—but only if the expected reward is calculated for each task and stimulus separately. If several tasks are to be learned simultaneously, the nervous system needs an internal critic that is able to predict the expected reward for arbitrary stimuli. We show that, with a critic, reward-modulated spike-timing-dependent plasticity is capable of learning motor trajectories with a temporal resolution of tens of milliseconds. The relation to temporal difference learning, the relevance of block-based learning paradigms, and the limitations of learning with a critic are discussed.