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Keywords:

  • dynamic control through inhibition;
  • feeding motor systems;
  • frequency control;
  • Hodgkin–Huxley models;
  • Lymnaea stagnalis

Abstract

Central pattern generators (CPGs) are networks underlying rhythmic motor behaviours and they are dynamically regulated by neuronal elements that are extrinsic or intrinsic to the rhythmogenic circuit. In the feeding system of the pond snail, Lymnaea stagnalis, the extrinsic slow oscillator (SO) interneuron controls the frequency of the feeding rhythm and the N3t (tonic) has a dual role; it is an intrinsic CPG interneuron, but it also suppresses CPG activity in the absence of food, acting as a decision-making element in the feeding circuit. The firing patterns of the SO and N3t neurons and their synaptic connections with the rest of the CPG are known, but how these regulate network function is not well understood. This was investigated by building a computer model of the feeding network based on a minimum number of cells (N1M, N2v and N3t) required to generate the three-phase motor rhythm together with the SO that was used to activate the system. The intrinsic properties of individual neurons were represented using two-compartment models containing currents of the Hodgkin–Huxley type. Manipulations of neuronal activity in the N3t and SO neurons in the model produced similar quantitative effects to food and electrical stimulation in the biological network indicating that the model is a useful tool for studying the dynamic properties of the feeding circuit. The model also predicted novel effects of electrical stimulation of two CPG interneurons (N1M and N2v). When tested experimentally, similar effects were found in the biological system providing further validation of our model.