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Biological clockwork underlying adaptive rhythmic movements


Owing to the complexity of neuronal circuits, precise mathematical descriptions of brain functions remain an elusive ambition. A more modest focus of many neuroscientists, central pattern generators, are more tractable neuronal circuits specialized to generate rhythmic movements, including locomotion. The relative simplicity and welldefined motor functions of these circuits provide an opportunity for uncovering fundamental principles of neuronal information processing. Here we present the culmination of mathematical analysis that captures the adaptive behaviors emerging from interactions between a central pattern generator, the body, and the physical environment during locomotion. The biologically realistic model describes the undulatory motions of swimming leeches with quantitative accuracy and, without further parameter tuning, predicts the sweeping changes in oscillation patterns of leeches undulating in air or swimming in high-viscosity fluid. The study demonstrates that central pattern generators are capable of adapting oscillations to the environment through sensory feedback, but without guidance from the brain.

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