Humans, like other animals, possess an enormous learning capacity that allows for the apprehension of new sensory information to master new skills or to adapt to an ever-changing environment. However, many of the mechanisms that enable people to learn remain poorly understood. One of the greatest challenges of systems neuroscience is to explain how synaptic connections change to support adaptive behaviours. Neuroscientists at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, previously showed that synaptic learning mechanisms in the brain’s cortex are dependent on feedback from deeper brain regions. They have now deciphered how this feedback gates synaptic strengthening by switching particular inhibitory neurons on and off. This study, published in Neuron, not only constitutes an important milestone in the understanding of the mechanisms for perceptual learning, but may also offer insight into computerized learning systems and artificial intelligence.