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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Nov;106(5):2201-15. doi: 10.1152/jn.00519.2011. Epub 2011 Jul 20.

Bringing up the rear: new premotor interneurons add regional complexity to a segmentally distributed motor pattern.

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  • 1Dept. of Biology, Emory Univ., Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Central pattern generators (CPGs) pace and pattern many rhythmic activities. We have uncovered a new module in the heartbeat CPG of leeches that creates a regional difference in this segmentally distributed motor pattern. The core CPG consists of seven identified pairs and one unidentified pair of heart interneurons of which 5 pairs are premotor and inhibit 16 pairs of heart motor neurons. The heartbeat CPG produces a side-to-side asymmetric pattern of activity of the premotor heart interneurons corresponding to an asymmetric fictive motor pattern and an asymmetric constriction pattern of the hearts with regular switches between the two sides. The premotor pattern progresses from rear to front on one side and nearly synchronously on the other; the motor pattern shows corresponding intersegmental coordination, but only from segment 15 forward. In the rearmost segments the fictive motor pattern and the constriction pattern progress from front to rear on both sides and converge in phase. Modeling studies suggested that the known inhibitory inputs to the rearmost heart motor neurons were insufficient to account for this activity. We therefore reexamined the constriction pattern of intact leeches. We also identified electrophysiologically two additional pairs of heart interneurons in the rear. These new heart interneurons make inhibitory connections with the rear heart motor neurons, are coordinated with the core heartbeat CPG, and are dye-coupled to their contralateral homologs. Their strong inhibitory connections with the rearmost heart motor neurons and the small side-to-side phase difference of their bursting contribute to the different motor and beating pattern observed in the animal's rear.

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