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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Jan 5;371(1685):20150057. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0057.

Evolution of central pattern generators and rhythmic behaviours.

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Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30302-5030, USA


Comparisons of rhythmic movements and the central pattern generators (CPGs) that control them uncover principles about the evolution of behaviour and neural circuits. Over the course of evolutionary history, gradual evolution of behaviours and their neural circuitry within any lineage of animals has been a predominant occurrence. Small changes in gene regulation can lead to divergence of circuit organization and corresponding changes in behaviour. However, some behavioural divergence has resulted from large-scale rewiring of the neural network. Divergence of CPG circuits has also occurred without a corresponding change in behaviour. When analogous rhythmic behaviours have evolved independently, it has generally been with different neural mechanisms. Repeated evolution of particular rhythmic behaviours has occurred within some lineages due to parallel evolution or latent CPGs. Particular motor pattern generating mechanisms have also evolved independently in separate lineages. The evolution of CPGs and rhythmic behaviours shows that although most behaviours and neural circuits are highly conserved, the nature of the behaviour does not dictate the neural mechanism and that the presence of homologous neural components does not determine the behaviour. This suggests that although behaviour is generated by neural circuits, natural selection can act separately on these two levels of biological organization.


comparative; homologous neurons; homoplasy; motor pattern; neural circuit; neuromodulation

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