Using a model to assess the role of the spatiotemporal pattern of inhibitory input and intrasegmental electrical coupling in the intersegmental and side-to-side coordination of motor neurons by the leech heartbeat central pattern generator

J Neurophysiol. 2008 Sep;100(3):1354-71. doi: 10.1152/jn.90579.2008. Epub 2008 Jun 25.


Previously we presented a quantitative description of the spatiotemporal pattern of inhibitory synaptic input from the heartbeat central pattern generator (CPG) to segmental motor neurons that drive heartbeat in the medicinal leech and the resultant coordination of CPG interneurons and motor neurons. To begin elucidating the mechanisms of coordination, we explore intersegmental and side-to-side coordination in an ensemble model of all heart motor neurons and their known synaptic inputs and electrical coupling. Model motor neuron intrinsic properties were kept simple, enabling us to determine the extent to which input and electrical coupling acting together can account for observed coordination in the living system in the absence of a substantive contribution from the motor neurons themselves. The living system produces an asymmetric motor pattern: motor neurons on one side fire nearly in synchrony (synchronous), whereas on the other they fire in a rear-to-front progression (peristaltic). The model reproduces the general trends of intersegmental and side-to-side phase relations among motor neurons, but the match with the living system is not quantitatively accurate. Thus realistic (experimentally determined) inputs do not produce similarly realistic output in our model, suggesting that motor neuron intrinsic properties may contribute to their coordination. By varying parameters that determine electrical coupling, conduction delays, intraburst synaptic plasticity, and motor neuron excitability, we show that the most important determinant of intersegmental and side-to-side phase relations in the model was the spatiotemporal pattern of synaptic inputs, although phasing was influenced significantly by electrical coupling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Electrical Synapses / physiology*
  • Heart Conduction System / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Leeches / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Membrane Potentials / radiation effects
  • Models, Biological*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology