The pyloric network of the lobster stomatogastric nervous system is one of the best described assemblies of oscillatory neurons producing bursts of action potentials. While the temporal patterns of bursts have been investigated in detail, those of spikes have received less attention. Here we analyze the intraburst firing patterns of pyloric neurons and the synaptic interactions shaping their dynamics in millisecond time scales not performed before. We find that different pyloric neurons express characteristic, cell-specific firing patterns in their bursts. Nonlinear analysis of the interspike intervals (ISIs) reveals distinctive temporal structures ('interspike interval signatures'), which are found to depend on the synaptic connectivity of the network. We compare ISI patterns of the pyloric dilator (PD), lateral pyloric (LP), and ventricular dilator (VD) neurons in 1) normal conditions, 2) after blocking glutamatergic synaptic connections, and 3) in various functional configurations of the three neurons. Manipulation of the synaptic connectivity results in characteristic changes in the ISI signatures of the postsynaptic neurons. The intraburst firing pattern of the PD neuron is regularized by the inhibitory synaptic connection from the LP neuron as revealed in current-clamp experiments and also as reconstructed with a dynamic clamp. On the other hand, mutual inhibition between the LP and VD neurons tend to produce more irregular bursts with increased spike jitter. The results show that synaptic interactions fine-tune the output of pyloric neurons. The present data also suggest a way of processing of synaptic information: bursting neurons are capable of encoding incoming signals by altering the fine structure of their intraburst spike patterns.
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