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J Exp Biol. 1976 Dec;65(3):643-68.

Rhythmic swimming activity in neurones of the isolated nerve cord of the leech.


1. Repeating bursts of motor neurone impulses have been recorded from the nerves of completely isolated nerve cords of the medicinal leech. The salient features of this burst rhythm are similar to those obtained in the semi-intact preparation during swimming. Hence the basic swimming rhythm is generated by a central oscillator. 2. Quantitative comparisons between the impulse patterns obtained from the isolated nerve cord and those obtained from a semi-intact preparation show that the variation in both dorsal to ventral motor neurone phasing and burst duration with swim cycle period differ in these two preparations. 3. The increase of intersegmental delay with period, which is a prominent feature of swimming behaviour of the intact animal, is not seen in either the semi-intact or isolated cord preparations. 4. In the semi-intact preparation, stretching the body wall or depolarizing an inhibitory motor neurone changes the burst duration of excitatory motor neurones in the same segment. In the isolated nerve cord, these manipulations also change the period of the swim cycle in the entire cord. 5. These comparisons suggest that sensory input stabilizes the centrally generated swimming rhythm, determines the phasing of the bursts of impulses from dorsal and ventral motor neurones, and matches the intersegmental delay to the cycle period so as to maintain a constant body shape at all rates of swimming.

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