An insulin-related peptide, bombyxin, in the silkmoth Bombyx mori is secreted by four pairs of cerebral neurosecretory cells that form a weakly coupled oscillator system to produce a pulsatile pattern of hormone secretion. The activity of individual bombyxin-producing (BP) cells oscillated with different periods (20–70 min). The population of BP cells exhibited complex phase dynamics, including spontaneous synchronization and desynchronization of different combinations of cells. Statistical cross-correlation analyses of oscillation patterns between BP cells revealed that one cell usually correlated closely with a few particular cells of similar periodicity. Close investigation of the phase differences between individual active phases of the related cell pairs revealed that an inphase synchronous state was usually maintained for many cycles, whereas an antiphase state was transient, lasting for a few cycles. In contrast, antiphase synchronous states often occurred between several cell pairs when the brain containing the cerebral neurosecretory cell system was disconnected from the ventral nerve cord containing the neuronal mechanism that induced periodic heartbeat reversals at intervals of 80–110 min and exerted a periodic suppressive or phase-resetting effect on individual BP cells. These results suggest that the internal coupling mechanism in the BP cell system is not sufficient to maintain an in-phase synchronous state in the heterogeneous cell population, and that the external phase resetting mechanism may assist in-phase synchronization of many neurosecretory cells to generate an overall pulsatile pattern of bombyxin secretion.
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