Motor neuron activity is transformed into muscle movement through a cascade of complex molecular and biomechanical events. This nonlinear mapping of neural inputs to motor behaviors is called the neuromuscular transform (NMT). We examined the NMT in the cardiac system of the lobster Homarus americanus by stimulating a cardiac motor nerve with rhythmic bursts of action potentials and measuring muscle movements in response to different stimulation patterns. The NMT was similar across preparations, which suggested that it could be used to predict muscle movement from spontaneous neural activity in the intact heart. We assessed this possibility across semi-intact heart preparations in two separate analyses. First, we performed a linear regression analysis across 122 preparations in physiological saline to predict muscle movements from neural activity. Under these conditions, the NMT was predictive of contraction duty cycle but was unable to predict contraction amplitude, likely as a result of uncontrolled interanimal variability. Second, we assessed the ability of the NMT to predict changes in motor output induced by the neuropeptide C-type allatostatin. Wiwatpanit et al. (2012) showed that bath application of C-type allatostatin produced either increases or decreases in the amplitude of the lobster heart contractions. We show that an important component of these preparation-dependent effects can arise from quantifiable differences in the basal state of each preparation and the nonlinear form of the NMT. These results illustrate how properly characterizing the relationships between neural activity and measurable physiological outputs can provide insight into seemingly idiosyncratic effects of neuromodulators across individuals.
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