The differential contribution of pacemaker neurons to synaptic transmission in the pyloric network of the Jonah crab, Cancer borealis

Diana Martinez, Joseph M. Santin, David Schulz, Farzan Nadim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Many neurons receive synchronous input from heterogeneous presynaptic neurons with distinct properties. An instructive example is the crustacean stomatogastric pyloric circuit pacemaker group, consisting of the anterior burster (AB) and pyloric dilator (PD) neurons, which are active synchronously and exert a combined synaptic action on most pyloric follower neurons. Previous studies in lobster have indicated that AB is glutamatergic, whereas PD is cholinergic. However, although the stomatogastric system of the crab Cancer borealis has become a preferred system for exploration of cellular and synaptic basis of circuit dynamics, the pacemaker synaptic output has not been carefully analyzed in this species. We examined the synaptic properties of these neurons using a combination of single-cell mRNA analysis, electrophysiology, and pharmacology. The crab PD neuron expresses high levels of choline acetyltransferase and the vesicular acetylcholine transporter mRNAs, hallmarks of cholinergic neurons. In contrast, the AB neuron expresses neither cholinergic marker but expresses high levels of vesicular glutamate transporter mRNA, consistent with a glutamatergic phenotype. Notably, in the combined synapses to follower neurons, 70 –75% of the total current was blocked by putative glutamatergic blockers, but short-term synaptic plasticity remained unchanged, and although the total pacemaker current in two follower neuron types was different, this difference did not contribute to the phasing of the follower neurons. These findings provide a guide for similar explorations of heterogeneous synaptic connections in other systems and a baseline in this system for the exploration of the differential influence of neuromodulators. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The pacemaker-driven pyloric circuit of the Jonah crab stomatogastric nervous system is a well-studied model system for exploring circuit dynamics and neuromodulation, yet the understanding of the synaptic properties of the two pacemaker neuron types is based on older analyses in other species. We use single-cell PCR and electrophysiology to explore the neurotransmitters used by the pacemaker neurons and their distinct contribution to the combined synaptic potentials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1623-1633
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


  • Acetylcholine
  • Central pattern generator
  • Glutamate
  • Stomatogastric


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