Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Neuroscience Institute

First Advisor

Andrey Shilnikov

Second Advisor

Igor Belykh

Third Advisor

Remus Osan

Fourth Advisor

Astrid Prinz


Central pattern generators (CPGs) are small neural circuits of coupled cells stably producing a range of multiphasic coordinated rhythmic activities like locomotion, heartbeat, and respiration. Rhythm generation resulting from synergistic interaction of CPG circuitry and intrinsic cellular properties remains deficiently understood and characterized. Pairing of experimental and computational studies has proven key in unlocking practical insights into operational and dynamical principles of CPGs, underlining growing consensus that the same fundamental circuitry may be shared by invertebrates and vertebrates.

We explore the robustness of synchronized oscillatory patterns in small local networks, revealing universal principles of rhythmogenesis and multi-functionality in systems capable of facilitating stability in rhythm formation. Understanding principles leading to functional neural network behavior benefits future study of abnormal neurological diseases that result from perturbations of mechanisms governing normal rhythmic states.

Qualitative and quantitative stability analysis of a family of reciprocally coupled neural circuits, constituted of generalized Fitzhugh–Nagumo neurons, explores symmetric and asymmetric connectivity within three-cell motifs, often forming constituent kernels within larger networks. Intrinsic mechanisms of synaptic release, escape, and post-inhibitory rebound lead to differing polyrhythmicity, where a single parameter or perturbation may trigger rhythm switching in otherwise robust networks. Bifurcation analysis and phase reduction methods elucidate qualitative changes in rhythm stability, permitting rapid identification and exploration of pivotal parameters describing biologically plausible network connectivity. Additional rhythm outcomes are elucidated, including phase-varying lags and broader cyclical behaviors, helping to characterize system capability and robustness reproducing experimentally observed outcomes.

This work further develops a suite of visualization approaches and computational tools, describing robustness of network rhythmogenesis and disclosing principles for neuroscience applicable to other systems beyond motor-control. A framework for modular organization is introduced, using inhibitory and electrical synapses to couple well-characterized 3-node motifs described in this research as building blocks within larger networks to describe underlying cooperative mechanisms.