Multifunctional and specialized spinal interneurons for turtle limb movements


Address for correspondence: Ari Berkowitz, Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, 730 Van Vleet Oval, Norman, OK 73019. Voice: 405-325-3492; fax: 405-325-6202.


The turtle spinal cord can help reveal how vertebrate central nervous system (CNS) circuits select and generate an appropriate limb movement in each circumstance. Both multifunctional and specialized spinal interneurons contribute to the motor patterns for the three forms of scratching, forward swimming, and flexion reflex. Multifunctional interneurons, activated during all of these motor patterns, can have axon terminal arborizations in the ventral horn, where they likely contribute to limb motor output. Specialized interneurons can be specialized for a behavior, as opposed to a phase or motor synergy. Interneurons specialized for scratching can be hyperpolarized throughout swimming. Interneurons specialized for flexion reflex can be hyperpolarized throughout scratching and swimming. Some structure–function correlations have been revealed: flexion reflex-selective interneurons had somata exclusively in the dorsal horn, in contrast to scratch-activated interneurons. Transverse interneurons, defined by quantitative morphological criteria, had higher peak firing rates, narrower action potentials, briefer afterhyperpolarizations, and larger membrane potential oscillations than scratch-activated interneurons with different dendritic morphologies. Future investigations will focus on how multifunctional and specialized spinal interneurons interact to generate each motor output.