Keywords: [ Neuroscience ] [ Representation Learning ]
Understanding how the brain constructs statistical models of the sensory world remains a longstanding challenge for computational neuroscience. Here, we derive an unsupervised local synaptic plasticity rule that trains neural circuits to infer latent structure from sensory stimuli via a novel loss function for approximate online Bayesian inference. The learning algorithm is driven by a local error signal computed between two factors that jointly contribute to neural activity: stimulus drive and internal predictions --- the network's 'impression' of the stimulus. Physiologically, we associate these two components with the basal and apical dendrites of pyramidal neurons, respectively. We show that learning can be implemented online, is capable of capturing temporal dependencies in continuous input streams, and generalizes to hierarchical architectures. Furthermore, we demonstrate both analytically and empirically that the algorithm is more data-efficient than a three-factor plasticity alternative, enabling it to learn statistics of high-dimensional, naturalistic inputs. Overall, the model provides a bridge from mechanistic accounts of synaptic plasticity to algorithmic descriptions of unsupervised probabilistic learning and inference.