Contribution of motoneuron intrinsic properties to fictive motor pattern generation

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Aug;106(2):538-53. doi: 10.1152/jn.00101.2011. Epub 2011 May 11.


Previously, we reported a canonical ensemble model of the heart motoneurons that underlie heartbeat in the medicinal leech. The model motoneurons contained a minimal set of electrical intrinsic properties and received a synaptic input pattern based on measurements performed in the living system. Although the model captured the synchronous and peristaltic motor patterns observed in the living system, it did not match quantitatively the motor output observed. Because the model motoneurons had minimal intrinsic electrical properties, the mismatch between model and living system suggests a role for additional intrinsic properties in generating the motor pattern. We used the dynamic clamp to test this hypothesis. We introduced the same segmental input pattern used in the model to motoneurons isolated pharmacologically from their endogenous input in the living system. We show that, although the segmental input pattern determines the segmental phasing differences observed in motoneurons, the intrinsic properties of the motoneurons play an important role in determining their phasing, particularly when receiving the synchronous input pattern. We then used trapezoidal input waveforms to show that the intrinsic properties present in the living system promote phase advances compared with our model motoneurons. Electrical coupling between heart motoneurons also plays a role in shaping motoneuron output by synchronizing the activity of the motoneurons within a segment. These experiments provide a direct assessment of how motoneuron intrinsic properties interact with their premotor pattern of synaptic drive to produce rhythmic output.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Heart / innervation
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Leeches
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology