Different roles for homologous interneurons in species exhibiting similar rhythmic behaviors

Curr Biol. 2011 Jun 21;21(12):1036-43. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.04.040. Epub 2011 May 27.


It is often assumed that similar behaviors in related species are produced by similar neural mechanisms. To test this, we examined the neuronal basis of a simple swimming behavior in two nudibranchs (Mollusca, Opisthobranchia), Melibe leonina and Dendronotus iris. The side-to-side swimming movements of Dendronotus [1] strongly resemble those of Melibe [2, 3]. In Melibe, it was previously shown that the central pattern generator (CPG) for swimming is composed of two bilaterally symmetric pairs of identified interneurons, swim interneuron 1 (Si1) and swim interneuron 2 (Si2), which are electrically coupled ipsilaterally and mutually inhibit both contralateral counterparts [2, 4]. We identified homologs of Si1 and Si2 in Dendronotus. (Henceforth, homologous neurons in each species will be distinguished by the subscripts (Den) and (Mel).) We found that Si2(Den) and Si2(Mel) play similar roles in generating the swim motor pattern. However, unlike Si1(Mel), Si1(Den) was not part of the swim CPG, was not strongly coupled to the ipsilateral Si2(Den), and did not inhibit the contralateral neurons. Thus, species differences exist in the neuronal organization of the swim CPGs despite the similarity of the behaviors. Therefore, similarity in species-typical behavior is not necessarily predictive of common neural mechanisms, even for homologous neurons in closely related species.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Mollusca / anatomy & histology
  • Mollusca / physiology*
  • Swimming*
  • Synapses / physiology