Mechanisms contributing to the dopamine induction of crawl-like bursting in leech motoneurons

Kevin M. Crisp, Brian R. Gallagher, Karen A. Mesce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Dopamine (DA) activates fictive crawling behavior in the medicinal leech. To identify the cellular mechanisms underlying this activation at the level of crawl-specific motoneuronal bursting, we targeted potential cAMP-dependent events that are often activated through DA1-like receptor signaling pathways. We found that isolated ganglia produced crawl-like motoneuron bursting after bath application of phosphodiesterase inhibitors (PDIs) that upregulated cAMP. This bursting persisted in salines in which calcium ions were replaced with equimolar cobalt or nickel, but was blocked by riluzole, an inhibitor of a persistent sodium current. PDI-induced bursting contained a number of patterned elements that were statistically similar to those observed during DA-induced fictive crawling, except that one motoneuron (CV) exhibited bursting during the contraction rather than the elongation phase of crawling. Although DA and the PDIs produced similar bursting profiles, intracellular recordings from motoneurons revealed differences in altered membrane properties. For example, DA lowered motoneuron excitability whereas the PDIs increased resting discharge rates. We suggest that PDIs (and DA) activate a sodium-influx-dependent timing mechanism capable of setting the crawl rhythm and that multiple DA receptor subtypes are involved in shaping and modulating the phase relationships and membrane properties of cell-specific members of the crawl network to generate crawling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3028-3036
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • CAMP
  • Calcium-dependent potassium conductance
  • Central pattern generator

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