Setting the Pace: New Insights into Central Pattern Generator Interactions in Box Jellyfish Swimming
Central Pattern Generators (CPGs) produce rhythmic behaviour across all animal phyla. Cnidarians, which have a radially symmetric nervous system and pacemaker centres in multiples of four, provide an interesting comparison to bilaterian animals for studying the coordination between CPGs. The box jellyfish Tripedalia cystophora is remarkable among cnidarians due to its most elaborate visual system. Together with their ability to actively swim and steer, they use their visual system for multiple types of behaviour. The four swim CPGs are directly regulated by visual input. In this study, we addressed the question of how the four pacemaker centres of this radial symmetric cnidarian interact. We based our investigation on high speed camera observations of the timing of swim pulses of tethered animals (Tripedalia cystophora) with one or four rhopalia, under different simple light regimes. Additionally, we developed a numerical model of pacemaker interactions based on the inter pulse interval distribution of animals with one rhopalium. We showed that the model with fully resetting coupling and hyperpolarization of the pacemaker potential below baseline fitted the experimental data best. Moreover, the model of four swim pacemakers alone underscored the proportion of long inter pulse intervals (IPIs) considerably. Both in terms of the long IPIs as well as the overall swim pulse distribution, the simulation of two CPGs provided a better fit than that of four. We therefore suggest additional sources of pacemaker control than just visual input. We provide guidelines for future research on the physiological linkage of the cubozoan CPGs and show the insight from bilaterian CPG research, which show that pacemakers have to be studied in their bodily and nervous environment to capture all their functional features, are also manifest in cnidarians.