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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, NEUROSCIENCE (oxfordre.com/neuroscience). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 09 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

New techniques for recording the activity of many neurons simultaneously have given insights into how neuronal circuits make the decision to perform one of many possible behaviors. A long-standing hypothesis for how behavioral choices are made in any animal is that “command neurons” are responsible for selecting individual behaviors, and that these same neurons inhibit the command neurons that elicit other behaviors. In fact, this mechanism has turned out to be just one of several ways that such decision-making is accomplished. In particular, for some behavioral choices, the circuits appear to overlap, sometimes extensively, to perform two or more behaviors. Making decisions using such “multifunctional neurons” has been proposed for large neural networks, but this strategy appears to be used in relatively small nervous systems, too. These simpler nervous systems can serve as useful test systems to test hypotheses about how the dynamics of networks of neurons can be used to select among different behaviors, similar to the mechanisms used by leeches deciding to swim, shorten, crawl, or feed.

Keywords: leech, command neurons, locomotion, reciprocal inhibition, decision-making, combinatorial code, behavioral choice, multifunctional neurons, principle components, dynamics

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