The role of the metacerebral giant neuron in the feeding behavior of Pleurobranchaea

Rhanor Gillette, William J. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The metacerebral giant (MCG) neurons of the mollusk Pleurobranchaea have been analyzed using a wide range of methods (cobalt staining, histochemical, biophysical and electrophysiological) on several types of preparations (isolated nervous systems, semi-intact preparations, and behaving whole-animal preparations). The MCG is serotonergic. The bilaterally-symmetrical neurons have somata in the anterior brain. Each MCG neuron sends an axon out the ipsilateral mouth nerve of the brain and also into the ipsilateral cerebrobuccal connective which descends to the buccal ganglion. The descending axon sends one or more branches out most buccal nerves. The MCG makes mono- and polysynaptic chemical excitatory and inhibitory connections with identified feeding motoneurons in the buccal ganglion. In quiescent preparations (isolated CNS or semi-intact), MCG stimulation caused coordinated eversion activity followed immediately by withdrawal activity. During an ongoing feeding rhythm (spontaneous output or induced by stimulation of the stomatogastric nerve), tonic stimulation of one or both MCG's at physiological discharge frequencies typically caused a significant increase in the frequency of the rhythm, and usually emphasized the eversion component at the expense of the withdrawal component. Phasic stimulation of one or both MCG's at physiological discharge frequencies and in normal discharge patterns (bursts; see below) accelerated and phaselocked the feeding rhythm. The MCG neurons receive synaptic feedback from identified neurons in the feeding network. Brain motoneurons are reciprocally coupled with the MCG by non-rectifying electrical synapses, while buccal ganglion neurons (the previously identified corollary discharge neurons) inhibit the MCG. Recordings from the MCG during cyclic feeding show that it discharges cyclically and that its membrane potential oscillates in phase with the feeding rhythm, presumably reflecting the above synaptic feedback. Two biophysical properties of the MCG membrane, namely anomalous rectification and postspike conductance increase, are presumed to contribute to the MCG's oscillatory activity. Chemosensory (food stimuli) and mechanosensory inputs from the oral veil excite the MCG's. In whole-animal preparations, these sensory inputs typically cause discharge in the MCG's and other descending neurons, accompanied by feeding motor output. The data collectively suggest that the MCG's of Pleurobranchaea are members of a population of neurons that normally function to command (i.e., arouse, initiate and sustain) the rhythmic feeding behavior. The demonstrated central feedback to the MCG is presumed to amplify these command functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-159
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology ■ A
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1977
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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