Although behavior is controlled by the nervous system, neuronal output is filtered through the neuromuscular system and is altered by feedback pathways. All components of such systems can be altered (modulated) by hormones or neurotransmitters. However, because these components interact in complex ways, the behavioral effects of modulating individual components are difficult to predict. The goal of this project is to extend our understanding of the control and modulation of the multi-component neuromuscular systems that underlie rhythmic behaviors, particularly the ways in which the multiple components that make up complete rhythmic neuromuscular systems are modulated to produce adaptive behaviors. The project will use physiological recordings in a simple model system (the crustacean heart) to examine modulation at all levels, including electrical activity in the central nervous system, movements generated by the muscles, and the effects of the known feedback systems. The approach will be comparative, examining the effects of two structurally related molecules that have similar effects on the whole system, and the effects of a third molecule, also structurally related to the first two, whose effects on the neuromuscular system as a whole differ substantially from the first two. The general principles uncovered should advance our understanding of both the extent to which different components of a system, particularly feedback systems, are modulated, and the ways in which such modulatory effects are able to interact to produce a predicted final output or behavior.
In addition, because this work will be conducted at an undergraduate college, it will contribute to the preparation, retention and interest of undergraduates in science. Students, who will contribute both intellectually and in hands-on work, will include both underrepresented minorities and women, as has been the case in the PI's lab in the past.