Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Dan Powell


Central pattern generators (CPGs) are neuronal networks that produce rhythmic motor output in the absence of sensory stimuli. Invertebrate CPGs are valuable models of neural circuit dynamics and neuromodulation because they continue to generate fictive activity in vitro. For example, the cardiac ganglion (CG) of the Jonah crab (Cancer borealis) and American lobster (Homarus americanus) contains nine electrochemically coupled neurons that fire bursts of action potentials to trigger a heartbeat. The CG is modulated by neuropeptides, amines, small molecule transmitters, gases, and mechanosensory feedback pathways that enable flexibility and constrain output. One such modulator, the SLY neuropeptide family, was previously shown to be expressed in hormonal release sites and within the CG itself and has unusual processing features. However, its physiological effect was unknown. Here, I performed dose-response experiments in the crab and lobster whole heart and isolated CG to determine the threshold concentration of SLY neuropeptides to which these systems respond. The crab isoform had strong, excitatory effects in the crab whole heart and weakly modulated the crab CG. The lobster isoform weakly modulated the lobster whole heart and CG. Surprisingly, the crab isoform exerted large, variable effects on the lobster system, which suggests that SLY neuropeptides, their receptors, and their signaling pathways may be evolutionarily conserved across these two species. This research contributes to our understanding of how neural circuits can generate flexible output in response to modulation. It may also offer insight into processes influenced by peptidergic neurotransmission in the nervous systems of other animals, including mammals.