Linear leak currents have been implicated in the regulation of neuronal excitability, generation of neuronal and network oscillations, and network state transitions. Yet, few studies have directly tested the dependence of network oscillations on leak currents or explored the role of leak currents on network activity. In the oscillatory pyloric network of decapod crustaceans neuromodulatory inputs are necessary for pacemaker activity. A large subset of neuromodulators is known to activate a single voltage-gated inward current I(MI), which has been shown to regulate the rhythmic activity of the network and its pacemaker neurons. Using the dynamic clamp technique, we show that the crucial component of I(MI) for the generation of oscillatory activity is only a close-to-linear portion of the current-voltage relationship. The nature of this conductance is such that the presence or the absence of neuromodulators effectively regulates the amount of leak current and the input resistance in the pacemaker neurons. When deprived of neuromodulatory inputs, pyloric oscillations are disrupted; yet, a linear reduction of the total conductance in a single neuron within the pacemaker group recovers not only the pacemaker activity in that neuron, but also leads to a recovery of oscillations in the entire pyloric network. The recovered activity produces proper frequency and phasing that is similar to that induced by neuromodulators. These results show that the passive properties of pacemaker neurons can significantly affect their capacity to generate and regulate the oscillatory activity of an entire network, and that this feature is exploited by neuromodulatory inputs.
Keywords: central pattern generator; dynamic clamp; leak current; neuromodulation; peptide-activated current; proctolin; pyloric rhythm; stomatogastric.