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Biologically-plausible backpropagation through arbitrary timespans via local neuromodulators

Yuhan Helena Liu · Stephen Smith · Stefan Mihalas · Eric Shea-Brown · Uygar Sümbül

Hall J (level 1) #932

Keywords: [ learning and plasticity ] [ neuromodulation ] [ temporal credit assignment ] [ neural circuit mechanisms ] [ recurrent neural networks ] [ computational neuroscience ] [ cell types ] [ biologically plausible learning ] [ Hebbian learning ]


The spectacular successes of recurrent neural network models where key parameters are adjusted via backpropagation-based gradient descent have inspired much thought as to how biological neuronal networks might solve the corresponding synaptic credit assignment problem [1, 2, 3]. There is so far little agreement, however, as to how biological networks could implement the necessary backpropagation through time, given widely recognized constraints of biological synaptic network signaling architectures. Here, we propose that extra-synaptic diffusion of local neuromodulators such as neuropeptides may afford an effective mode of backpropagation lying within the bounds of biological plausibility. Going beyond existing temporal truncation-based gradient approximations [4, 5, 6], our approximate gradient-based update rule, ModProp, propagates credit information through arbitrary time steps. ModProp suggests that modulatory signals can act on receiving cells by convolving their eligibility traces via causal, time-invariant and synapse-type-specific filter taps. Our mathematical analysis of ModProp learning, together with simulation results on benchmark temporal tasks, demonstrate the advantage of ModProp over existing biologically-plausible temporal credit assignment rules. These results suggest a potential neuronal mechanism for signaling credit information related to recurrent interactions over a longer time horizon. Finally, we derive an in-silico implementation of ModProp that could serve as a low-complexity and causal alternative to backpropagation through time.

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