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J Neurophysiol. 2007 Mar;97(3):2239-53. Epub 2007 Jan 3.

Distinct synaptic dynamics of heterogeneous pacemaker neurons in an oscillatory network.

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Department of Mathematical Sciences, New Jersey Institute of Technology, 323 Martin Luther King Blvd., Newark, NJ 07102, USA.


Many rhythmically active networks involve heterogeneous populations of pacemaker neurons with potentially distinct synaptic outputs that can be differentially targeted by extrinsic inputs or neuromodulators, thereby increasing possible network output patterns. To understand the roles of heterogeneous pacemaker neurons, we characterized differences in synaptic output from the anterior burster (AB) and pyloric dilator (PD) neurons in the lobster pyloric network. These intrinsically distinct neurons are strongly electrically coupled, coactive, and constitute the pyloric pacemaker ensemble. During pyloric oscillations, the pacemaker neurons produce compound inhibitory synaptic connections to the follower lateral pyloric (LP) and pyloric constrictor (PY) neurons, which fire out of phase with AB/PD and with different delay times. Using pharmacological blockers, we separated the synapses originating from the AB and PD neurons and investigated their temporal dynamics. These synapses exhibited distinct short-term dynamics, depending on the presynaptic neuron type, and had different relative contributions to the total synaptic output depending on waveform shape and cycle frequency. However, paired comparisons revealed that the amplitude or dynamics of synapses from either the AB or PD neuron did not depend on the postsynaptic neuron type, LP or PY. To address the functional implications of these findings, we examined the correlation between synaptic inputs from the pacemakers and the burst onset phase of the LP and PY neurons in the ongoing pyloric rhythm. These comparisons showed that the activity of the LP and PY neurons is influenced by the peak phase and amplitude of the synaptic inputs from the pacemaker neurons.

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