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Nature. 2012 Jan 25;482(7383):47-52. doi: 10.1038/nature10776.

Conditional modulation of spike-timing-dependent plasticity for olfactory learning.

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Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.

Erratum in

  • Nature. 2012 Jul 5;487(7405):128.


Mushroom bodies are a well-known site for associative learning in insects. Yet the precise mechanisms that underlie plasticity there and ensure their specificity remain elusive. In locusts, the synapses between the intrinsic mushroom body neurons and their postsynaptic targets obey a Hebbian spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) rule. Although this property homeostatically regulates the timing of mushroom body output, its potential role in associative learning is unknown. Here we show in vivo that pre-post pairing causing STDP can, when followed by the local delivery of a reinforcement-mediating neuromodulator, specify the synapses that will undergo an associative change. At these synapses, and there only, the change is a transformation of the STDP rule itself. These results illustrate the multiple actions of STDP, including a role in associative learning, despite potential temporal dissociation between the pairings that specify synaptic modification and the delivery of reinforcement-mediating neuromodulator signals.

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