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J Neurophysiol. 2000 Feb;83(2):712-22.

Control of cricket stridulation by a command neuron: efficacy depends on the behavioral state.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, United Kingdom.


Crickets use different song patterns for acoustic communication. The stridulatory pattern-generating networks are housed within the thoracic ganglia but are controlled by the brain. This descending control of stridulation was identified by intracellular recordings and stainings of brain neurons. Its impact on the generation of calling song was analyzed both in resting and stridulating crickets and during cercal wind stimulation, which impaired the stridulatory movements and caused transient silencing reactions. A descending interneuron in the brain serves as a command neuron for calling-song stridulation. The neuron has a dorsal soma position, anterior dendritic processes, and an axon that descends in the contralateral connective. The neuron is present in each side of the CNS. It is not activated in resting crickets. Intracellular depolarization of the interneuron so that its spike frequency is increased to 60-80 spikes/s reliably elicits calling-song stridulation. The spike frequency is modulated slightly in the chirp cycle with the maximum activity in phase with each chirp. There is a high positive correlation between the chirp repetition rate and the interneuron's spike frequency. Only a very weak correlation, however, exists between the syllable repetition rate and the interneuron activity. The effectiveness of the command neuron depends on the activity state of the cricket. In resting crickets, experimentally evoked short bursts of action potentials elicit only incomplete calling-song chirps. In crickets that previously had stridulated during the experiment, short elicitation of interneuron activity can trigger sustained calling songs during which the interneuron exhibits a spike frequency of approximately 30 spikes/s. During sustained calling songs, the command neuron activity is necessary to maintain the stridulatory behavior. Inhibition of the interneuron stops stridulation. A transient increase in the spike frequency of the interneuron speeds up the chirp rate and thereby resets the timing of the chirp pattern generator. The interneuron also is excited by cercal wind stimulation. Cercal wind stimulation can impair the pattern of chirp and syllable generation, but these changes are not reflected in the discharge pattern of the command neuron. During wind-evoked silencing reactions, the activity of the calling-song command neuron remains unchanged, but under these conditions, its activity is no longer sufficient to maintain stridulation. Therefore stridulation can be suppressed by cercal inputs from the terminal ganglia without directly inhibiting the descending command activity.

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