Reliable, responsive pacemaking and pattern generation with minimal cell numbers: the crustacean cardiac ganglion

Biol Bull. 2002 Apr;202(2):108-36. doi: 10.2307/1543649.


Investigations of the electrophysiology of crustacean cardiac ganglia over the last half-century are reviewed for their contributions to elucidating the cellular mechanisms and interactions by which a small (as few as nine cells) neuronal network accomplishes extremely reliable, rhythmical, patterned activation of muscular activity-in this case, beating of the neurogenic heart. This ganglion is thus a model for pacemaking and central pattern generation. Favorable anatomy has permitted voltage- and space-clamp analyses of voltage-dependent ionic currents that endow each neuron with the intrinsic ability to respond with rhythmical, patterned impulse activity to nonpatterned stimulation. The crustacean soma and initial axon segment do not support impulse generation but integrate input from stretch-sensitive dendrites and electrotonic and chemically mediated synapses on axonal processes in neuropils. The soma and initial axon produce a depolarization-activated, calcium-mediated, sustained potential, the "driver potential," so-called because it drives a train of impulses at the "trigger zone" of the axon. Extreme reliability results from redundancy and the electrotonic coupling and synaptic interaction among all the neurons. Complex modulation by central nervous system inputs and by neurohormones to adjust heart pumping to physiological demands has long been demonstrated, but much remains to be learned about the cellular and molecular mechanisms of action. The continuing relevance of the crustacean cardiac ganglion as a relatively simple model for pacemaking and central pattern generation is confirmed by the rapidly widening documentation of intrinsic potentials such as plateau potentials in neurons of all major animal groups. The suite of ionic currents (a slowly inactivating calcium current and various potassium currents, with variations) observed for the crustacean cardiac ganglion have been implicated in or proven to underlie a majority of the intrinsic potentials of neurons involved in pattern generation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crustacea / anatomy & histology*
  • Crustacea / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Ganglia / anatomy & histology*
  • Ganglia / physiology*
  • Heart Conduction System / anatomy & histology*
  • Heart Conduction System / physiology*
  • Models, Cardiovascular
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Periodicity
  • Synapses / physiology


  • Neurotransmitter Agents