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Neuronal bursting: interactions of the persistent sodium and CAN currents

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The pre-Botzinger complex (pBC) is a heterogeneous neuronal network within the mammalian brainstem and has been experimentally found to generate robust, synchronous bursts [1]. Significant modeling research has been conducted on characterizing the dynamics of individual neurons within the pBC. [2, 3] It is well known that the persistent sodium current (INaP) contributes to square-wave bursting seen in the pBC [4]. Recent experimental work within the pBC identified a signaling cascade that starts with presynaptic glutamate and ends with the release of intracellular calcium that activates a nonspecific cationic current (ICAN) [5]. A subsequent model demonstrated that ICAN may contribute to bursts within the pBC that exhibit depolarization block [6]. With these two mechanisms for generating bursts present within the pBC, an open question is how do they combine to generate the robust bursts seen in the network? The present work seeks to analyze the result of including both INaP and ICAN within the same model. We consider the effects of heterogeneity in the conductance gNaP of INaP and the conductance gCAN of ICAN; with this heterogeneity in mind, the model cell may be quiescent, tonically active, have only square-wave bursts, have only depolarization-block exhibiting bursts, or may show both types of bursting. Using the mathematical tools of bifurcation analysis and slow-fast decomposition, we illuminate the mechanisms underlying the transitions of a model cell between the types of dynamics listed above. Our results show that, in cases where gCAN is relatively high, increasing gNaP increases the range of gCAN where the resultant cell has depolarization-block exhibiting bursts. On the other hand, when gCAN is relatively low, increasing gNaP may cause the cell to transition from quiescence, to square wave bursting, to tonic activity, to square wave bursts with high duty cycles, and finally further increase of gNaP causes the cell to again be tonically active. The latter two transitions do not occur if ICAN is absent. The interactions of ICAN and INaP are relevant to many systems beyond the pBC. Individually, ICAN and INaP have been focused on as important to rhythmic burst generation in other systems such as the entorhinal cortex [7]; however, it is likely that both currents are present in these systems. Thus, a detailed account for the interaction of ICAN and INaP may help explain the rhythm generation encountered in other systems beyond the pBC.


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This work is supported by NSF award EMSW21-RTG 0739261.

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Correspondence to Justin R Dunmyre.

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Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Dunmyre, J.R., Rubin, J.E. Neuronal bursting: interactions of the persistent sodium and CAN currents. BMC Neurosci 11, O4 (2010).

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  • Entorhinal Cortex
  • Sodium Current
  • Tonic Activity
  • Rhythm Generation
  • Cationic Current