Activity-dependent plasticity appears to play an important role in the modification of neurons and neural circuits that occurs during development and learning. Plasticity is also essential for the maintenance of stable patterns of activity in the face of variable environmental and internal conditions. Previous theoretical and experimental results suggest that neurons stabilize their activity by altering the number or characteristics of ion channels to regulate their intrinsic electrical properties. We present both experimental and modeling evidence to show that activity-dependent regulation of conductances, operating at the level of individual neurons, can also stabilize network activity. These results indicate that the stomatogastric ganglion of the crab can generate a characteristic rhythmic pattern of activity in two fundamentally different modes of operation. In one mode, the rhythm is strictly conditional on the presence of neuromodulatory afferents from adjacent ganglia. In the other, it is independent of neuromodulatory input but relies on newly developed intrinsic properties of the component neurons.

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