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J Neurosci. 2011 Aug 10;31(32):11484-94. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1885-11.2011.

The same core rhythm generator underlies different rhythmic motor patterns.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6074, USA.


Rhythmically active motor circuits can generate different activity patterns in response to different inputs. In most systems, however, it is not known whether the same neurons generate the underlying rhythm for each different pattern. Thus far, information regarding the degree of conservation of rhythm generator neurons is limited to a few pacemaker-driven circuits, in most of which the core rhythm generator is unchanged across different output patterns. We are addressing this issue in the network-driven, gastric mill (chewing) circuit in the crab stomatogastric nervous system. We first establish that distinct gastric mill motor patterns are triggered by separate stimulation of two extrinsic input pathways, the ventral cardiac neurons (VCNs) and postoesophageal commissure (POC) neurons. A prominent feature that distinguishes these gastric mill motor patterns is the LG (lateral gastric) protractor motor neuron activity pattern, which is tonic during the VCN rhythm and exhibits fast rhythmic bursting during the POC rhythm. These two motor patterns also differed in their cycle period and some motor neuron phase relationships, duty cycles, and burst durations. Despite the POC and VCN motor patterns being distinct, rhythm generation during each motor pattern required the activity of the same two, reciprocally inhibitory gastric mill neurons [LG, Int1 (interneuron 1)]. Specifically, reversibly hyperpolarizing LG or Int1, but no other gastric mill neuron, delayed the start of the next gastric mill cycle until after the imposed hyperpolarization. Thus, the same circuit neurons can comprise the core rhythm generator during different versions of a network-driven rhythmic motor pattern.

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