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Front Neurosci. 2016 Feb 4;10:19. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2016.00019. eCollection 2016.

Spatial Noise in Coupling Strength and Natural Frequency within a Pacemaker Network; Consequences for Development of Intestinal Motor Patterns According to a Weakly Coupled Phase Oscillator Model.

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Department of Medicine, Farncombe Family Digestive Health Institute, McMaster University Hamilton, ON, Canada.


Pacemaker activities generated by networks of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), in conjunction with the enteric nervous system, orchestrate most motor patterns in the gastrointestinal tract. It was our objective to understand the role of network features of ICC associated with the myenteric plexus (ICC-MP) in the shaping of motor patterns of the small intestine. To that end, a model of weakly coupled oscillators (oscillators influence each other's phase but not amplitude) was created with most parameters derived from experimental data. The ICC network is a uniform two dimensional network coupled by gap junctions. All ICC generate pacemaker (slow wave) activity with a frequency gradient in mice from 50/min at the proximal end of the intestine to 40/min at the distal end. Key features of motor patterns, directly related to the underlying pacemaker activity, are frequency steps and dislocations. These were accurately mimicked by reduction of coupling strength at a point in the chain of oscillators. When coupling strength was expressed as a product of gap junction density and conductance, and gap junction density was varied randomly along the chain (i.e., spatial noise) with a long-tailed distribution, plateau steps occurred at pointsof low density. As gap junction conductance was decreased, the number of plateaus increased, mimicking the effect of the gap junction inhibitor carbenoxolone. When spatial noise was added to the natural interval gradient, as gap junction conductance decreased, the number of plateaus increased as before but in addition the phase waves frequently changed direction of apparent propagation, again mimicking the effect of carbenoxolone. In summary, key features of the motor patterns that are governed by pacemaker activity may be a direct consequence of biological noise, specifically spatial noise in gap junction coupling and pacemaker frequency.


gap junction; interstitial cells of Cajal; noise; weakly coupled oscillator

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