From lamprey to salamander: an exploratory modeling study on the architecture of the spinal locomotor networks in the salamander
The evolutionary transition from water to land required new locomotor modes and corresponding adjustments of the spinal "central pattern generators" for locomotion. Salamanders resemble the first terrestrial tetrapods and represent a key animal for the study of these changes. Based on recent physiological data from salamanders, and previous work on the swimming, limbless lamprey, we present a model of the basic oscillatory network in the salamander spinal cord, the spinal segment. Model neurons are of the Hodgkin-Huxley type. Spinal hemisegments contain sparsely connected excitatory and inhibitory neuron populations, and are coupled to a contralateral hemisegment. The model yields a large range of experimental findings, especially the NMDA-induced oscillations observed in isolated axial hemisegments and segments of the salamander Pleurodeles waltlii. The model reproduces most of the effects of the blockade of AMPA synapses, glycinergic synapses, calcium-activated potassium current, persistent sodium current, and -current. Driving segments with a population of brainstem neurons yields fast oscillations in the in vivo swimming frequency range. A minimal modification to the conductances involved in burst-termination yields the slower stepping frequency range. Slow oscillators can impose their frequency on fast oscillators, as is likely the case during gait transitions from swimming to stepping. Our study shows that a lamprey-like network can potentially serve as a building block of axial and limb oscillators for swimming and stepping in salamanders.