The significance of dynamical architecture for adaptive responses to mechanical loads during rhythmic behavior

J Comput Neurosci. 2015 Feb;38(1):25-51. doi: 10.1007/s10827-014-0519-3. Epub 2014 Sep 4.


Many behaviors require reliably generating sequences of motor activity while adapting the activity to incoming sensory information. This process has often been conceptually explained as either fully dependent on sensory input (a chain reflex) or fully independent of sensory input (an idealized central pattern generator, or CPG), although the consensus of the field is that most neural pattern generators lie somewhere between these two extremes. Many mathematical models of neural pattern generators use limit cycles to generate the sequence of behaviors, but other models, such as a heteroclinic channel (an attracting chain of saddle points), have been suggested. To explore the range of intermediate behaviors between CPGs and chain reflexes, in this paper we describe a nominal model of swallowing in Aplysia californica. Depending upon the value of a single parameter, the model can transition from a generic limit cycle regime to a heteroclinic regime (where the trajectory slows as it passes near saddle points). We then study the behavior of the system in these two regimes and compare the behavior of the models with behavior recorded in the animal in vivo and in vitro. We show that while both pattern generators can generate similar behavior, the stable heteroclinic channel can better respond to changes in sensory input induced by load, and that the response matches the changes seen when a load is added in vivo. We then show that the underlying stable heteroclinic channel architecture exhibits dramatic slowing of activity when sensory and endogenous input is reduced, and show that similar slowing with removal of proprioception is seen in vitro. Finally, we show that the distributions of burst lengths seen in vivo are better matched by the distribution expected from a system operating in the heteroclinic regime than that expected from a generic limit cycle. These observations suggest that generic limit cycle models may fail to capture key aspects of Aplysia feeding behavior, and that alternative architectures such as heteroclinic channels may provide better descriptions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Mechanical Phenomena
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics*
  • Periodicity*