Spike Timing or Rate? Neurons Learn to Make Decisions for Both Through Threshold-Driven Plasticity

Qiang Yu, Haizhou Li, Kay Chen Tan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Spikes play an essential role in information transmission in central nervous system, but how neurons learn from them remains a challenging question. Most algorithms studied how to train spiking neurons to process patterns encoded with a sole assumption of either a rate or a temporal code. Is there a general learning algorithm capable of processing both codes regardless of the intense debate on them within neuroscience community? In this paper, we propose several threshold-driven plasticity algorithms to address the above question. In addition to formulating the algorithms, we also provide proofs with respect to several properties, such as robustness and convergence. The experimental results illustrate that our algorithms are simple, effective and yet efficient for training neurons to learn spike patterns. Due to their simplicity and high efficiency, our algorithms would be potentially beneficial for both software and hardware implementations. Neurons with our algorithms can also detect and recognize embedded features from a background sensory activity. With the as-proposed algorithms, a single neuron can successfully perform multicategory classifications by making decisions based on its output spike number in response to each category. Spike patterns being processed can be encoded with both spike rates and precise timings. When afferent spike timings matter, neurons will automatically extract temporal features without being explicitly instructed as to which point to fire.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8351987
Pages (from-to)2178-2189
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Cybernetics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Feature extraction
  • multispike learning
  • pattern recognition
  • spiking neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Information Systems
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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