Genesis and role of coordinated firing in a feedforward network: a model study of the enteric nervous system

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The enteric nervous system can generate complex motor patterns independently of the central nervous system. The ascending enteric reflex pathway consists of sensory neurons, long chains of a single class of orally directed interneuron and excitatory motor neurons. Because of the importance of this pathway in peristalsis, it was modelled from the firing of sensory neurons through to muscle membrane activation. The model was anatomically realistic in the number of neurons simulated and in the patterns of connections between neurons. The model was also realistic in the simulation of ligand-gated currents in neuron and muscle membrane, current flow in the muscle syncytium and voltage-dependent currents in muscle. Sensory neurons were activated in a manner consistent with a brief mechanical stimulus. Transmission between sensory neurons and first-order interneurons was by slow excitatory transmission, which caused interneurons to fire continuously for several hundred milliseconds. Interneurons then transmitted to higher order interneurons by fast excitatory postsynaptic potentials, each lasting for around 40 ms. As the activity propagated along the pathway, random firing became progressively more synchronized between neurons, until the network as a whole was firing in a coordinated manner. The coordinated firing was a robust phenomenon over a wide range of network and neuron parameters. It is therefore possible that this is a general property of feedforward networks that receive high levels of sustained input. The smooth muscle model indicated that bursting input to the muscle may increase the likelihood of muscle cells firing action potentials when compared with uniform input. In addition, the syncytium model explains how the predicted muscle excitation might be related to current experimental observations.
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Thomas, E. A.
Bertrand, P. P
Bornstein, J. C.
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UNSW Faculty