Population coupling predicts the plasticity of stimulus responses in cortical circuits

  1. Yann Sweeney
  2. Claudia Clopath  Is a corresponding author
  1. Imperial College London, United Kingdom


Some neurons have stimulus responses that are stable over days, whereas other neurons have highly plastic stimulus responses. Using a recurrent network model, we explore whether this could be due to an underlying diversity in their synaptic plasticity. We find that, in a network with diverse learning rates, neurons with fast rates are more coupled to population activity than neurons with slow rates. This plasticity-coupling link predicts that neurons with high population coupling exhibit more long-term stimulus response variability than neurons with low population coupling. We substantiate this prediction using recordings from the Allen Brain Observatory, finding that a neuron's population coupling is correlated with the plasticity of its orientation preference. Simulations of a simple perceptual learning task suggest a particular functional architecture: a stable 'backbone' of stimulus representation formed by neurons with low population coupling, on top of which lies a flexible substrate of neurons with high population coupling.

Data availability

All calcium imaging data came from the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Allen Brain Observatory. Available from: http://observatory.brain-map.org/visualcoding/A list of experiment IDs can be found on FigShare, under the doi 10.6084/m9.figshare.11837406Code has been made available at https://github.com/yannaodh/sweeney_clopath_2020 and is under the doi:10.5281/zenodo.3757305.Previously Published Datasets: Allen Brain Observatory: Allen Institute, 2016, http://observatory.brain-map.org/visualcoding/, http://observatory.brain-map.org/visualcoding/

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Yann Sweeney

    Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-2164-2438
  2. Claudia Clopath

    Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-4507-8648


Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/N013956/1,BB/N019008/1)

  • Claudia Clopath

Wellcome (200790/Z/16/Z)

  • Claudia Clopath

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/R035806/1)

  • Claudia Clopath

Simons Foundation (564408)

  • Claudia Clopath

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Ronald L Calabrese, Emory University, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: February 14, 2020
  2. Accepted: April 16, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: April 21, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: May 14, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Sweeney & Clopath

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Yann Sweeney
  2. Claudia Clopath
Population coupling predicts the plasticity of stimulus responses in cortical circuits
eLife 9:e56053.

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