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J Neurosci. 2011 Nov 30;31(48):17555-71. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4723-11.2011.

Patterns of presynaptic activity and synaptic strength interact to produce motor output.

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Department of Biology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.


Motor neuron activity is coordinated by premotor networks into a functional motor pattern by complex patterns of synaptic drive. These patterns combine both the temporal pattern of spikes of the premotor network and the profiles of synaptic strengths (i.e., conductances). Given the complexity of premotor networks in vertebrates, it has been difficult to ascertain the relative contributions of temporal patterns and synaptic strength profiles to the motor patterns observed in these animals. Here, we use the leech (Hirudo sp.) heartbeat central pattern generator (CPG), in which we can measure both the temporal pattern and the synaptic strength profiles of the entire premotor network and the motor outflow in individual animals. In this system, a series of motor neurons all receive input from the same premotor interneurons of the CPG but must be coordinated differentially to produce a functional pattern. These properties allow a theoretical and experimental dissection of the rules that govern how temporal patterns and synaptic strength profiles are combined in motor neurons so that functional motor patterns emerge, including an analysis of the impact of animal-to-animal variation in input to such variation in output. In the leech, segmental heart motor neurons are coordinated alternately in a synchronous and peristaltic pattern. We show that synchronous motor patterns result from a nearly synchronous premotor temporal pattern produced by the leech heartbeat CPG. For peristaltic motor patterns, the staggered premotor temporal pattern determines the phase range over which segmental motor neurons can fire while synaptic strength profiles define the intersegmental motor phase progression realized.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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