Escape swimming in the notaspid opisthobranch Pleurobranchaea is an episode of alternating dorsal and ventral body flexions that overrides all other behaviors. We have explored the structure of the central pattern generator (CPG) in the cerebropleural ganglion as part of a study of neural network interactions underlying decision making in normal behavior. The CPG comprises at least eight bilaterally paired interneurons, each of which contributes and is phase-locked to the swim rhythm. Dorsal flexion is mediated by hemiganglion ensembles of four serotonin-immunoreactive neurons, the As1, As2, As3, and As4, and an electrically coupled pair, the A1 and A10 cells. When stimulated, A10 commands fictive swimming in the isolated CNS and actual swimming behavior in whole animals. Asl-4 provide prolonged, neuromodulatory excitation enhancing dorsal flexion bursts and swim cycle number. Ventral flexion is mediated by the A3 cell and a ventral swim interneuron, I(vs), the soma of which is yet unlocated. Initiation of a swim episode begins with persistent firing in A10, followed by recruitment of Asl- 4 and A1 into dorsal flexion. Recurrent excitation within the Asl-4 ensemble and with A1/A10 may reinforce coactivity. Synchrony among swim interneuron partners and bilateral coordination is promoted by electrical coupling among the A1/A10 and As4 pairs, and among unilateral As2-4, and reciprocal chemical excitation between contralateral Asl-4 groups. The switch from dorsal to ventral flexion coincides with delayed recruitment of A3, which is coupled electrically to A1, and with recurrent inhibition from A3/I(vs) to A1/A10. The alternating phase relation may be reinforced by reciprocal inhibition between Asl-4 and I(vs). Pleurobranchaea's swim resembles that of the nudibranch Tritonia; we find that the CPGs are similar in many details, suggesting that the behavior and network are primitive characters derived from a common pleurobranchid ancestor.
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