Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Daniel J. Powell


Central pattern generator (CPG) networks produce the rhythmic motor patterns that underlie critical behaviors such as breathing, walking, and heartbeat. The fidelity of these neural circuits in response to fluctuations in environmental conditions is essential for organismal survival. The specific ion channel profile of a neuron dictates its electrophysiological phenotype and is under homeostatic control, as channel proteins are constantly turning over in the membrane in response to internal and external stimuli. Neuronal function depends on ion channels and biophysical processes that are sensitive to external variables such as temperature, pH, and salinity. Nonetheless, the nervous system of the American lobster (Homarus americanus) is robust to global perturbations in these variables.

The cardiac ganglion (CG), the CPG that controls the rhythmic activation of the heart in the lobster, has been shown to maintain function across a relatively wide, ecologically-relevant range of saline concentrations in the short-term. This study investigates whether individual neurons of the CG sense and compensate for long-term changes in extracellular ion concentration by controlling their ion channel mRNA abundances. To do this, I bathed the isolated CG in either 0.75x, 1.5x, or 1x (physiological) saline concentrations for 24 h. I then dissected out individual CG motor neurons, the pacemaker neurons, and sections of axonal projections and used single-cell RT-qPCR to measure relative mRNA abundances of several species of ion channels in these cells.

I found that the CG maintained stable output with 24 h exposure to altered saline concentrations (0.75x and 1.5x), and that this stability may indeed be enabled by changes in mRNA abundances and correlated channel relationships.