Brian J Norris

Emory University, Atlanta, GA, United States

Are you Brian J Norris?

Claim your profile

Publications (10)37.5 Total impact

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Central pattern generators (CPGs) produce motor patterns that ultimately drive motor outputs. We studied how functional motor performance is achieved, specifically, whether the variation seen in motor patterns is reflected in motor performance and whether fictive motor patterns differ from those in vivo. We used the leech heartbeat system where a bilaterally symmetric CPG coordinates segmental heart motor neurons and two segmented heart tubes into two mutually exclusive coordination modes: rear-to-front peristaltic on one side, nearly synchronous on the other, with regular side-to-side switches. We assessed individual variability of the motor pattern and the beat pattern in vivo. To quantify the beat pattern we imaged intact adults. To quantify the phase relations between motor neurons and heart constrictions we recorded extracellularly from two heart motor neurons and movement from the corresponding heart segments in minimally dissected leeches. Variation in the motor pattern was reflected in motor performance only in the peristaltic mode, where larger intersegmental phase differences in the motor neurons resulted in larger phase differences between heart constrictions. Fictive motor patterns differed from those in vivo only in the synchronous mode, where intersegmental phase differences in vivo had a larger front-to-rear bias and were more constrained. Additionally, load-influenced constriction timing might explain the amplification of the phase differences between heart segments in the peristaltic mode and the higher variability in motor output due to body shape assumed in this soft-bodied animal. The motor pattern determines the beat pattern, peristaltic or synchronous, but heart mechanics influence the phase relations achieved.
    Journal of Neurophysiology 04/2014; · 3.30 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The heartbeat central pattern generator (CPG) in medicinal leeches controls blood flow within a closed circulatory by programming the constrictions of two parallel heart tubes. This circuit reliably produces a stereotyped fictive pattern of activity and has been extensively characterized. Here we determined, as quantitatively as possible, the strength of each inhibitory synapse and electrical junction within the core circuit of the heartbeat CPG. We also examined the animal-to-animal variability in strengths of these connections and, for some, determined the correlations between connections to the same postsynaptic target. The core CPG is composed of seven bilateral pairs of heart interneurons connected via both inhibitory chemical synapses and electrical junctions. Fifteen different connections within the core CPG were measured for strength using extracellular presynaptic recordings and postsynaptic voltage-clamp recordings across a minimum of seven individuals each, and the animal-to-animal variability was characterized. Connection strengths within the core network varied three to more than sevenfold among individuals (depending on the specific connection). The balance between two inputs onto various postsynaptic targets was explored by within-individual comparisons and correlation across individuals. Of the seven comparisons made within the core CPG, three showed a clear correlation of connection strengths, while the other four did not. We conclude that the leech heartbeat CPG can withstand wide variability in connection strengths and still produce stereotyped output. The network appears to preserve the relative strengths of some pairs of inputs, despite the animal-to-animal variability.
    Journal of Neurophysiology 12/2011; 107(6):1681-93. · 3.30 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Central pattern generators (CPGs) pace and pattern many rhythmic activities. We have uncovered a new module in the heartbeat CPG of leeches that creates a regional difference in this segmentally distributed motor pattern. The core CPG consists of seven identified pairs and one unidentified pair of heart interneurons of which 5 pairs are premotor and inhibit 16 pairs of heart motor neurons. The heartbeat CPG produces a side-to-side asymmetric pattern of activity of the premotor heart interneurons corresponding to an asymmetric fictive motor pattern and an asymmetric constriction pattern of the hearts with regular switches between the two sides. The premotor pattern progresses from rear to front on one side and nearly synchronously on the other; the motor pattern shows corresponding intersegmental coordination, but only from segment 15 forward. In the rearmost segments the fictive motor pattern and the constriction pattern progress from front to rear on both sides and converge in phase. Modeling studies suggested that the known inhibitory inputs to the rearmost heart motor neurons were insufficient to account for this activity. We therefore reexamined the constriction pattern of intact leeches. We also identified electrophysiologically two additional pairs of heart interneurons in the rear. These new heart interneurons make inhibitory connections with the rear heart motor neurons, are coordinated with the core heartbeat CPG, and are dye-coupled to their contralateral homologs. Their strong inhibitory connections with the rearmost heart motor neurons and the small side-to-side phase difference of their bursting contribute to the different motor and beating pattern observed in the animal's rear.
    Journal of Neurophysiology 07/2011; 106(5):2201-15. · 3.30 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Experimental and corresponding modeling studies indicate that there is a 2- to 5-fold variation of intrinsic and synaptic parameters across animals while functional output is maintained. Here, we review experiments, using the heartbeat central pattern generator (CPG) in medicinal leeches, which explore the consequences of animal-to-animal variation in synaptic strength for coordinated motor output. We focus on a set of segmental heart motor neurons that all receive inhibitory synaptic input from the same four premotor interneurons. These four premotor inputs fire in a phase progression and the motor neurons also fire in a phase progression because of differences in synaptic strength profiles of the four inputs among segments. Our work tested the hypothesis that functional output is maintained in the face of animal-to-animal variation in the absolute strength of connections because relative strengths of the four inputs onto particular motor neurons is maintained across animals. Our experiments showed that relative strength is not strictly maintained across animals even as functional output is maintained, and animal-to-animal variations in strength of particular inputs do not correlate strongly with output phase. Further experiments measured the precise temporal pattern of the premotor inputs, the segmental synaptic strength profiles of their connections onto motor neurons, and the temporal pattern (phase progression) of those motor neurons all in the same animal for a series of 12 animals. The analysis of input and output in this sample of 12 individuals suggests that the number (four) of inputs to each motor neuron and the variability of the temporal pattern of input from the CPG across individuals weaken the influence of the strength of individual inputs. Moreover, the temporal pattern of the output varies as much across individuals as that of the input. Essentially, each animal arrives at a unique solution for how the network produces functional output.
    Integrative and Comparative Biology 06/2011; 51(6):845-55. · 3.02 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Experimental and corresponding modeling studies have demonstrated a twofold to fivefold variation of intrinsic and synaptic parameters across animals, whereas functional output is maintained. These studies have led to the hypothesis that correlated, compensatory changes in particular parameters can at least partially explain the biological variability in parameters. Using the leech heartbeat central pattern generator (CPG), we selected three different segmental motor neurons that fire in a functional phase progression but receive input from the same four premotor interneurons. Previous work suggested that the phase progression arises because the pattern of relative strength of the four inputs varies systematically across the segmental motor neurons. Nevertheless, there was considerable animal-to-animal variation in the absolute strengths of these connections. We tested the hypothesis that functional output is maintained in the face of variation in the absolute strength of connections because relative strengths onto particular motor neurons are maintained. We found that relative strength is not strictly maintained across animals even as functional output is maintained, and animal-to-animal variations in relative strength of particular inputs do not correlate strongly with output phase. In parallel with this variation in synaptic strength, the firing phase of the premotor inputs to these motor neurons varies considerably across individuals. We conclude that the number (four) of inputs to each motor neuron, which each vary in strength, and the phase diversity of the temporal pattern of input from the CPG diminish the influence of individual inputs. We hypothesize that each animal arrives at a unique solution for how the network produces functional output.
    Journal of Neuroscience 03/2011; 31(12):4663-74. · 6.91 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: How can flexible phasing be generated by a central pattern generator (CPG)? To address this question, we have extended an existing model of the leech heartbeat CPG's timing network to construct a model of the CPG core and explore how appropriate phasing is set up by parameter variation. Within the CPG, the phasing among premotor interneurons switches regularly between two well defined states - synchronous and peristaltic. To reproduce experimentally observed phasing, we varied the strength of inhibitory synaptic and excitatory electrical input from the timing network to follower premotor interneurons. Neither inhibitory nor electrical input alone was sufficient to produce proper phasing on both sides, but instead a balance was required. Our model suggests that the different phasing of the two sides arises because the inhibitory synapses and electrical coupling oppose one another on one side (peristaltic) and reinforce one another on the other (synchronous). Our search of parameter space defined by the strength of inhibitory synaptic and excitatory electrical input strength led to a CPG model that well approximates the experimentally observed phase relations. The strength values derived from this analysis constitute model predictions that we tested by measurements made in the living system. Further, variation of the intrinsic properties of follower interneurons showed that they too systematically influence phasing. We conclude that a combination of inhibitory synaptic and excitatory electrical input interacting with neuronal intrinsic properties can flexibly generate a variety of phase relations so that almost any phasing is possible.
    Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 01/2010; 4. · 4.76 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The central pattern generator (CPG) for heartbeat in leeches consists of seven identified pairs of segmental heart interneurons and one unidentified pair. Four of the identified pairs and the unidentified pair of interneurons make inhibitory synaptic connections with segmental heart motor neurons. The CPG produces a side-to-side asymmetric pattern of intersegmental coordination among ipsilateral premotor interneurons corresponding to a similarly asymmetric fictive motor pattern in heart motor neurons, and asymmetric constriction pattern of the two tubular hearts: synchronous and peristaltic. Using extracellular techniques, we recorded, in 61 isolated nerve cords, the activity of motor neurons in conjunction with the phase reference premotor heart interneuron, HN(4), and another premotor interneuron that allowed us to assess the coordination mode. These data were then coupled with a previous description of the temporal pattern of premotor interneuron activity in the two coordination modes to synthesize a global phase diagram for the known elements of the CPG and the entire motor neuron ensemble. These average data reveal the stereotypical side-to-side asymmetric patterns of intersegmental coordination among the motor neurons and show how this pattern meshes with the activity pattern of premotor interneurons. Analysis of animal-to-animal variability in this coordination indicates that the intersegmental phase progression of motor neuron activity in the midbody in the peristaltic coordination mode is the most stereotypical feature of the fictive motor pattern. Bilateral recordings from motor neurons corroborate the main features of the asymmetric motor pattern.
    Journal of Neurophysiology 12/2007; 98(5):2983-91. · 3.30 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The central pattern generator (CPG) for heartbeat in medicinal leeches consists of seven identified pairs of segmental heart interneurons and one unidentified pair. Four of the identified pairs and the unidentified pair of interneurons make inhibitory synaptic connections with segmental heart motor neurons. The CPG produces a side-to-side asymmetric pattern of intersegmental coordination among ipsilateral premotor interneurons corresponding to a similarly asymmetric fictive motor pattern in heart motor neurons, and asymmetric constriction pattern of the two tubular hearts, synchronous and peristaltic. Using extracellular recordings from premotor interneurons and voltage-clamp recordings of ipsilateral segmental motor neurons in 69 isolated nerve cords, we assessed the strength and dynamics of premotor inhibitory synaptic output onto the entire ensemble of heart motor neurons and the associated conduction delays in both coordination modes. We conclude that premotor interneurons establish a stereotypical pattern of intersegmental synaptic connectivity, strengths, and dynamics that is invariant across coordination modes, despite wide variations among preparations. These data coupled with a previous description of the temporal pattern of premotor interneuron activity and relative phasing of motor neuron activity in the two coordination modes enable a direct assessment of how premotor interneurons through their temporal pattern of activity and their spatial pattern of synaptic connectivity, strengths, and dynamics coordinate segmental motor neurons into a functional pattern of activity.
    Journal of Neurophysiology 12/2007; 98(5):2992-3005. · 3.30 Impact Factor
  • Source
    BMC Neuroscience 01/2007; 8. · 3.00 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The central pattern generator for heartbeat in medicinal leeches constitutes seven identified pairs of segmental heart interneurons. Four identified pairs of heart interneurons make a staggered pattern of inhibitory synaptic connections with segmental heart motor neurons. Using extracellular recording from multiple interneurons in the network in 56 isolated nerve cords, we show that this pattern generator produces a side-to-side asymmetric pattern of intersegmental coordination among ipsilateral premotor interneurons. This pattern corresponds to a similarly asymmetric fictive motor pattern in heart motor neurons and asymmetric constriction pattern of the two tubular hearts, synchronous and peristaltic. We provide a quantitative description of the firing pattern of all the premotor interneurons, including phase, duty cycle, and intraburst frequency of this premotor activity pattern. This analysis identifies two stereotypical coordination modes corresponding to synchronous and peristaltic, which show phase constancy over a broad range of periods as do the fictive motor pattern and the heart constriction pattern. Coordination mode is controlled through one segmental pair of heart interneurons (switch interneurons). Side-to-side switches in coordination mode are a regular feature of this pattern generator and occur with changes in activity state of these switch interneurons. Associated with synchronous coordination of premotor interneurons, the ipsilateral switch interneuron is in an active state, during which it produces rhythmic bursts, whereas associated with peristaltic coordination, the ipsilateral switch interneuron is largely silent. We argue that timing and pattern elaboration are separate functions produced by overlapping subnetworks in the heartbeat central pattern generator.
    Journal of Neurophysiology 08/2006; 96(1):309-26. · 3.30 Impact Factor