Sensory initiation of a co-ordinated motor response: synaptic excitation underlying simple decision-making.
Journal of Physiology
© 2015 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Physiological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
KEY POINTS: Deciding whether or how to initiate a motor response to a stimulus can be surprisingly slow and the underlying processes are not well understood. The neuronal circuitry that allows frog tadpoles to swim in response to touch is well characterized and includes excitatory reticulospinal neurons that drive swim circuit neurons. Build-up of excitation to reticulospinal neurons is the key decision-making step for swimming. Asymmetry in this build-up between the two sides allows bilateral initiation at the same time as avoiding inappropriate co-activation of motor antagonists. Following stronger stimuli, reticulospinal neurons are excited through a trigeminal nucleus pathway and swimming starts first on the stimulated side. If this pathway fails or is lesioned, swimming starts later on the unstimulated side. The mechanisms underlying initiation of a simple tadpole motor response may share similarities with more complex decisions in other animals, including humans. ABSTRACT: Animals take time to make co-ordinated motor responses to a stimulus. How can sensory input initiate organized movements, activating all necessary elements at the same time as avoiding inappropriate co-excitation of antagonistic muscles? In vertebrates, this process usually results in the activation of reticulospinal pathways. Young Xenopus tadpoles can respond to head-skin touch by swimming, which may start on either side. We investigate how motor networks in the brain are organized, and whether asymmetries in touch sensory pathways avoid co-activation of antagonists at the same time as producing co-ordinated movements. We record from key reticulospinal neurons in the network controlling swimming. When the head skin is stimulated unilaterally, excitation builds up slowly and asymmetrically in these neurons such that those on both sides do not fire synchronously. This build-up of excitation to threshold is the key decision-making step and determines whether swimming will start, as well as on which side. In response to stronger stimuli, the stimulated side tends to 'win' because excitation from a shorter, trigeminal nucleus pathway becomes reliable and can initiate swimming earlier on the stimulated side. When this pathway fails or is lesioned, swimming starts later and on the unstimulated side. Stochasticity in the trigeminal nucleus pathway allows unpredictable turning behaviour to weaker stimuli, conferring potential survival benefits. We locate the longer, commissural sensory pathway carrying excitation to the unstimulated side and record from its neurons. These neurons fire to head-skin stimuli but excite reticulospinal neurons indirectly. We propose that asymmetries in the sensory pathways exciting brainstem reticulospinal neurons ensure alternating and co-ordinated swimming activity from the start.
This work was supported by the BBSRC grant (BB/G006652/1).
This is the final version of the article. Available from Wiley via the DOI in this record.
Journal of Physiology, 2015, Vol. 593, Issue 19, pp. 4423 - 4437
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