Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 161, Issue 3, pp 355-366

First online:

Neural mechanisms generating the leech swimming rhythm: Swim-initiator neurons excite the network of swim oscillator neurons

  • Michael P. NusbaumAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of California
  • , W. Otto FriesenAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Virginia
  • , William B. KristanJr.Affiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of California
  • , Robert A. PearceAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Virginia

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This paper describes newly identified excitatory connections linking the segmentally iterated swim-initiator interneurons with the network of oscillator neurons that generates the leech swimming rhythm. Apparently monosynaptic excitatory chemical connections are made from one class of swim-initiator neurons (cells 204/205) to several members of the swim oscillator network, including cells 28, 115 and, as described by Weeks (1982c), cell 208. A second class of swim-initiator neurons, cells 21 and 61, also excites this subset of the oscillator neurons.

The unpaired swim oscillator neuron, cell 208, also chemically excites cells 28 and 115, apparently directly. Thus, in addition to its role as a member of the swim oscillator, the excitatory output from cell 208 to the swim oscillator adds to that provided by the swim-initiator neurons.

The results of this paper enlarge the subset of identified swim oscillator neurons synaptically excited by the swim-initiator neurons. These newly described targets of the swim-initiators strengthen the hypotheses that: 1) the swim-initiator neurons supply much of the tonic excitatory drive responsible for activation and maintenance of the swim central motor program, and 2) the two classes of swim-initiators, cells 204/205 and cells 21/61, act synergistically to initiate and maintain swimming.