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J Neurosci. 1994 Jul;14(7):4167-84.

Distributed aspects of the response to siphon touch in Aplysia: spread of stimulus information and cross-correlation analysis.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510.


We examined two aspects of the response to siphon stimulation in an attempt to test the hypothesis that the Aplysia CNS functions as a distributed system. First, we estimated the number of central neurons that respond to a light touch to the siphon skin. We made voltage-sensitive dye recordings from the abdominal, pleural, pedal, and cerebral ganglia. From these recordings we estimated that 220 abdominal neurons, 110 pleural neurons, and 650 pedal neurons were affected by the light touch. Thus, the information about this mild and localized stimulus is very widely distributed within the Aplysia CNS. This result allows the possibility that the Aplysia CNS functions as a distributed system. If only a small number of neurons had responded to the touch, it would have supported the conclusion that the gill-withdrawal reflex could be generated by a small, dedicated circuit. Second, we searched for correlations between the spike times of the individual abdominal ganglion neurons. Two time scales were examined: a millisecond time scale corresponding to the duration of a fast synaptic potential and a seconds time scale corresponding to the duration of the gill-withdrawal movement. Neuron pairs with highly correlated spike activity on a millisecond time scale must be connected by (or have a common input that uses) relatively powerful, fast, excitatory synapses. We expected that this kind of synaptic interaction would be relatively rare in nervous systems that functioned in a distributed manner. Indeed, only 0.3% of the neuron pairs had correlation coefficients of 0.15 or greater. These correlations accounted for approximately 2% of the action potentials generated in response to siphon stimulation. Thus, large, fast excitatory synaptic interactions appear to be relatively unimportant. This result is consistent with the hypothesis that the abdominal ganglion functions as a distributed system. When the longer time scale was used for the cross-correlograms, a large fraction of the cell pairs had correlated activity because many neurons are activated by the stimulus. It was not possible to interpret the slow correlations in terms of actual synaptic interactions between individual neurons. Our results are consistent with the possibility that the abdominal ganglion functions in a distributed manner. However, this evaluation is indirect and thus only tentative conclusions can be drawn. Evidence from several sources suggests that the neuronal interactions for generating the Aplysia gill-withdrawal reflex are complex.

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