Neuromodulation to the Rescue: Compensation of Temperature-Induced Breakdown of Rhythmic Motor Patterns via Extrinsic Neuromodulatory Input

PLoS Biol. 2015 Sep 29;13(9):e1002265. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002265. eCollection 2015.


Stable rhythmic neural activity depends on the well-coordinated interplay of synaptic and cell-intrinsic conductances. Since all biophysical processes are temperature dependent, this interplay is challenged during temperature fluctuations. How the nervous system remains functional during temperature perturbations remains mostly unknown. We present a hitherto unknown mechanism of how temperature-induced changes in neural networks are compensated by changing their neuromodulatory state: activation of neuromodulatory pathways establishes a dynamic coregulation of synaptic and intrinsic conductances with opposing effects on neuronal activity when temperature changes, hence rescuing neuronal activity. Using the well-studied gastric mill pattern generator of the crab, we show that modest temperature increase can abolish rhythmic activity in isolated neural circuits due to increased leak currents in rhythm-generating neurons. Dynamic clamp-mediated addition of leak currents was sufficient to stop neuronal oscillations at low temperatures, and subtraction of additional leak currents at elevated temperatures was sufficient to rescue the rhythm. Despite the apparent sensitivity of the isolated nervous system to temperature fluctuations, the rhythm could be stabilized by activating extrinsic neuromodulatory inputs from descending projection neurons, a strategy that we indeed found to be implemented in intact animals. In the isolated nervous system, temperature compensation was achieved by stronger extrinsic neuromodulatory input from projection neurons or by augmenting projection neuron influence via bath application of the peptide cotransmitter Cancer borealis tachykinin-related peptide Ia (CabTRP Ia). CabTRP Ia activates the modulator-induced current IMI (a nonlinear voltage-gated inward current) that effectively acted as a negative leak current and counterbalanced the temperature-induced leak to rescue neuronal oscillations. Computational modelling revealed the ability of IMI to reduce detrimental leak-current influences on neuronal networks over a broad conductance range and indicated that leak and IMI are closely coregulated in the biological system to enable stable motor patterns. In conclusion, these results show that temperature compensation does not need to be implemented within the network itself but can be conditionally provided by extrinsic neuromodulatory input that counterbalances temperature-induced modifications of circuit-intrinsic properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brachyura / physiology*
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Central Pattern Generators / physiology*
  • Digestion
  • Periodicity
  • Temperature*

Grant support

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft STE 937/9-1 to WS. R.D. Weigel Research Grant of the Beta Lambda Chapter of Phi Sigma Illinois State University to CS. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.