Cycle-by-cycle assembly of respiratory network activity is dynamic and stochastic

Michael S. Carroll, Jan Marino Ramirez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Rhythmically active networks are typically composed of neurons that can be classified as silent, tonic spiking, or rhythmic bursting based on their intrinsic activity patterns. Within these networks, neurons are thought to discharge in distinct phase relationships with their overall network output, and it has been hypothesized that bursting pacemaker neurons may lead and potentially trigger cycle onsets. We used multielectrode recording from 72 experiments to test these ideas in rhythmically active slices containing the pre-Bötzinger complex, a region critical for breathing. Following synaptic blockade, respiratory neurons exhibited a gradient of intrinsic spiking to rhythmic bursting activities and thus defied an easy classification into bursting pacemaker and nonbursting categories. Features of their firing activity within the functional network were analyzed for correlation with subsequent rhythmic bursting in synaptic isolation. Higher firing rates through all phases of fictive respiration statistically predicted bursting pacemaker behavior. However, a cycle-by-cycle analysis indicated that respiratory neurons were stochastically activated with each burst. Intrinsically bursting pacemakers led some population bursts and followed others. This variability was not reproduced in traditional fully interconnected computational models, while sparsely connected network models reproduced these results both qualitatively and quantitatively. We hypothesize that pacemaker neurons do not act as clock-like drivers of the respiratory rhythm but rather play a flexible and dynamic role in the initiation and stabilization of each burst. Thus, at the behavioral level, each breath can be thought of as de novo assembly of a stochastic collaboration of network topology and intrinsic properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-305
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2013


  • Conductance-based simulation
  • Network topology
  • Pre-Bötzinger complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology

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