How does spontaneous activity during development prepare cortico-cortical connections for sensory input? We here analyse the development of sequence memory, an intrinsic feature of recurrent networks that supports temporal perception. We use a recurrent neural network model with homeostatic and spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP). This model has been shown to learn specific sequences from structured input. We show that development even under unstructured input increases unspecific sequence memory. Moreover, networks pre-shaped by such unstructured input subsequently learn specific sequences faster. The key structural substrate is the emergence of strong and directed synapses due to STDP and synaptic competition. These construct self-amplifying preferential paths of activity, which can quickly encode new input sequences. Our results suggest that memory traces are not printed on a tabula rasa, but instead harness building blocks already present in the brain.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience