Supervised and unsupervised learning with two sites of synaptic integration

Konrad P. Körding*, Peter König

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Many learning rules for neural networks derive from abstract objective functions. The weights in those networks are typically optimized utilizing gradient ascent on the objective function. In those networks each neuron needs to store two variables. One variable, called activity, contains the bottom-up sensory-fugal information involved in the core signal processing. The other variable typically describes the derivative of the objective function with respect to the cell's activity and is exclusively used for learning. This variable allows the objective function's derivative to be calculated with respect to each weight and thus the weight update. Although this approach is widely used, the mapping of such two variables onto physiology is unclear, and these learning algorithms are often considered biologically unrealistic. However, recent research on the properties of cortical pyramidal neurons shows that these cells have at least two sites of synaptic integration, the basal and the apical dendrite, and are thus appropriately described by at least two variables. Here we discuss whether these results could constitute a physiological basis for the described abstract learning rules. As examples we demonstrate an implementation of the backpropagation of error algorithm and a specific self-supervised learning algorithm using these principles. Thus, compared to standard, one-integration-site neurons, it is possible to incorporate interesting properties in neural networks that are inspired by physiology with a modest increase of complexity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-215
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Computational Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Apical dendrite
  • Backpropagation
  • Bursts of action potentials
  • Calcium spike
  • Self-supervised learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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