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J Neurophysiol. 2006 Feb;95(2):850-61. Epub 2005 Oct 19.

Bursts of information: coordinating interneurons encode multiple parameters of a periodic motor pattern.

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Section of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8519, USA.


The limbs on different segments of the crayfish abdomen that drive forward swimming are directly controlled by modular pattern-generating circuits. These circuits are linked together by axons of identified coordinating interneurons. We described the distributions of these neurons in each abdominal ganglion and monitored their firing during expression of the swimming motor pattern. We analyzed the timing, the numbers of spikes, and the duration of each burst of spikes in these coordinating neurons. To see what information these neurons encoded, we correlated these parameters with the timing, durations, and strengths of bursts of spikes in motor axons from the same modules. During the power-stroke phase of each output cycle, the anterior-projecting neurons fired bursts of spikes that encoded information about the start-time, duration, and strength of each burst of spikes in power-stroke motor neurons from the same module. When the period and intensity of the motor output fluctuated, the bursts of spikes in these neurons tracked these fluctuations accurately. Each additional spike in these neurons signified an increase in the strength of the power-stroke burst. The posterior-projecting neurons that fired during the return-stroke phase encoded similar information about the return-stroke motor neurons. Although homologous neurons from different ganglia were qualitatively similar, neurons from posterior ganglia fired significantly more spikes per burst than those from more anterior ganglia, a segmental gradient that correlates with the normal posterior-to-anterior phase progression of limb movements. We propose that this gradient and a similar gradient in the durations of bursts in power-stroke motor neurons might reflect a hitherto-undetected difference in the excitation or intrinsic excitability of swimmeret modules in different segments.

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