External recording and stimulation, techniques were used to determine which neurons and interactions are essential for production of the periodic burst discharge in the lobster cardiac ganglion. Burst activity can be modulated by brief single shocks applied to the four small cells, but not by similar stimulation of the five large cells, suggesting that normally one or more small cells primarily determine burst rate and duration. Repetitive electrical stimulation of large cells initiates spike activity in small cells, probably via excitatory synaptic and/or electrotonic connections which may normally act to prolong bursts and decrease burst rate. Transection of the ganglion can result in burst activity in small cells in the partial or complete absence of large cell spike activity, but large cells isolated from small cell excitatory synaptic input by transection or by application of dinitrophenol do not burst. Generally, transections which decrease excitatory feedback to small cells are accompanied by an increase in burst rate, but mean spike frequency over an entire burst cycle stabilizes at the original level within 10–30 min for various groups of cells whose spike-initiating sites are still intact. These and previous results suggest that the system is two layered: one or more small cells generate the burst pattern and impose it on the large cells which are the system's motorneurons.

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