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1.  Motor Circuit-Specific Burst Patterns Drive Different Muscle and Behavior Patterns 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(29):12013-12029.
In the isolated CNS, different modulatory inputs can enable one motor network to generate multiple output patterns. Thus far, however, few studies have established whether different modulatory inputs also enable a defined network to drive distinct muscle and movement patterns in vivo, much as they enable these distinctions in behavioral studies. This possibility is not a foregone conclusion, because additional influences present in vivo (e.g., sensory feedback, hormonal modulation) could alter the motor patterns. Additionally, rhythmic neuronal activity can be transformed into sustained muscle contractions, particularly in systems with slow muscle dynamics, as in the crab (Cancer borealis) stomatogastric system used here. We assessed whether two different versions of the biphasic (protraction, retraction) gastric mill (chewing) rhythm, triggered in the isolated stomatogastric system by the modulatory ventral cardiac neurons (VCNs) and postoesophageal commissure (POC) neurons, drive different muscle and movement patterns. One distinction between these rhythms is that the lateral gastric (LG) protractor motor neuron generates tonic bursts during the VCN rhythm, whereas its POC-rhythm bursts are divided into fast, rhythmic burstlets. Intracellular muscle fiber recordings and tension measurements show that the LG-innervated muscles retain the distinct VCN-LG and POC-LG neuron burst structures. Moreover, endoscope video recordings in vivo, during VCN-triggered and POC-triggered chewing, show that the lateral teeth protraction movements exhibit the same, distinct protraction patterns generated by LG in the isolated nervous system. Thus, the multifunctional nature of an identified motor network in the isolated CNS can be preserved in vivo, where it drives different muscle activity and movement patterns.
PMCID: PMC3713734  PMID: 23864688
2.  The Stomatogastric Nervous System as a Model for Studying Sensorimotor Interactions in Real-Time Closed-Loop Conditions 
The perception of proprioceptive signals that report the internal state of the body is one of the essential tasks of the nervous system and helps to continuously adapt body movements to changing circumstances. Despite the impact of proprioceptive feedback on motor activity it has rarely been studied in conditions in which motor output and sensory activity interact as they do in behaving animals, i.e., in closed-loop conditions. The interaction of motor and sensory activities, however, can create emergent properties that may govern the functional characteristics of the system. We here demonstrate a method to use a well-characterized model system for central pattern generation, the stomatogastric nervous system, for studying these properties in vitro. We created a real-time computer model of a single-cell muscle tendon organ in the gastric mill of the crab foregut that uses intracellular current injections to control the activity of the biological proprioceptor. The resulting motor output of a gastric mill motor neuron is then recorded intracellularly and fed into a simple muscle model consisting of a series of low-pass filters. The muscle output is used to activate a one-dimensional Hodgkin–Huxley type model of the muscle tendon organ in real-time, allowing closed-loop conditions. Model properties were either hand tuned to achieve the best match with data from semi-intact muscle preparations, or an exhaustive search was performed to determine the best set of parameters. We report the real-time capabilities of our models, its performance and its interaction with the biological motor system.
PMCID: PMC3303146  PMID: 22435059
central pattern generation; sensorimotor; proprioception; spike frequency adaptation; emergent properties
3.  Nephronectin regulates atrioventricular canal differentiation via Bmp4-Has2 signaling in zebrafish 
Development (Cambridge, England)  2011;138(20):4499-4509.
The extracellular matrix is crucial for organogenesis. It is a complex and dynamic component that regulates cell behavior by modulating the activity, bioavailability and presentation of growth factors to cell surface receptors. Here, we determined the role of the extracellular matrix protein Nephronectin (Npnt) in heart development using the zebrafish model system. The vertebrate heart is formed as a linear tube in which myocardium and endocardium are separated by a layer of extracellular matrix termed the cardiac jelly. During heart development, the cardiac jelly swells at the atrioventricular (AV) canal, which precedes valve formation. Here, we show that Npnt expression correlates with this process. Morpholino-mediated knockdown of Npnt prevents proper valve leaflet formation and trabeculation and results in greater than 85% lethality at 7 days post-fertilization. The earliest observed phenotype is an extended tube-like structure at the AV boundary. In addition, the expression of myocardial genes involved in cardiac valve formation (cspg2, fibulin 1, tbx2b, bmp4) is expanded and endocardial cells along the extended tube-like structure exhibit characteristics of AV cells (has2, notch1b and Alcam expression, cuboidal cell shape). Inhibition of has2 in npnt morphants rescues the endocardial, but not the myocardial, expansion. By contrast, reduction of BMP signaling in npnt morphants reduces the ectopic expression of myocardial and endocardial AV markers. Taken together, our results identify Npnt as a novel upstream regulator of Bmp4-Has2 signaling that plays a crucial role in AV canal differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3253110  PMID: 21937601
Nephronectin; Atrioventricular canal; Bmp4; Zebrafish
4.  Cardiac Deletion of Smyd2 Is Dispensable for Mouse Heart Development 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9748.
Chromatin modifying enzymes play a critical role in cardiac differentiation. Previously, it has been shown that the targeted deletion of the histone methyltransferase, Smyd1, the founding member of the SET and MYND domain containing (Smyd) family, interferes with cardiomyocyte maturation and proper formation of the right heart ventricle. The highly related paralogue, Smyd2 is a histone 3 lysine 4- and lysine 36-specific methyltransferase expressed in heart and brain. Here, we report that Smyd2 is differentially expressed during cardiac development with highest expression in the neonatal heart. To elucidate the functional role of Smyd2 in the heart, we generated conditional knockout (cKO) mice harboring a cardiomyocyte-specific deletion of Smyd2 and performed histological, functional and molecular analyses. Unexpectedly, cardiac deletion of Smyd2 was dispensable for proper morphological and functional development of the murine heart and had no effect on global histone 3 lysine 4 or 36 methylation. However, we provide evidence for a potential role of Smyd2 in the transcriptional regulation of genes associated with translation and reveal that Smyd2, similar to Smyd3, interacts with RNA Polymerase II as well as to the RNA helicase, HELZ.
PMCID: PMC2840034  PMID: 20305823
5.  Histone deacetylase activity is essential for the expression of HoxA9 and for endothelial commitment of progenitor cells 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2005;201(11):1825-1835.
The regulation of acetylation is central for the epigenetic control of lineage-specific gene expression and determines cell fate decisions. We provide evidence that the inhibition of histone deacetylases (HDACs) blocks the endothelial differentiation of adult progenitor cells. To define the mechanisms by which HDAC inhibition prevents endothelial differentiation, we determined the expression of homeobox transcription factors and demonstrated that HoxA9 expression is down-regulated by HDAC inhibitors. The causal involvement of HoxA9 in the endothelial differentiation of adult progenitor cells is supported by the finding that HoxA9 overexpression partially rescued the endothelial differentiation blockade induced by HDAC inhibitors. Knockdown and overexpression studies revealed that HoxA9 acts as a master switch to regulate the expression of prototypical endothelial-committed genes such as endothelial nitric oxide synthase, VEGF-R2, and VE-cadherin, and mediates the shear stress–induced maturation of endothelial cells. Consistently, HoxA9-deficient mice exhibited lower numbers of endothelial progenitor cells and showed an impaired postnatal neovascularization capacity after the induction of ischemia. Thus, HoxA9 is regulated by HDACs and is critical for postnatal neovascularization.
PMCID: PMC2213253  PMID: 15928198

Results 1-5 (5)