Does epileptiform activity represent a failure of neuromodulation to control central pattern generator-like neocortical behavior?
Rhythmic motor patterns in invertebrates are often driven by specialized “central pattern generators” (CPGs), containing small numbers of neurons, which are likely to be “identifiable” in one individual compared with another. The dynamics of any particular CPG lies under the control of modulatory substances, amines, or peptides, entering the CPG from outside it, or released by internal constituent neurons; consequently, a particular CPG can generate a given rhythm at different frequencies and amplitudes, and perhaps even generate a repertoire of distinctive patterns. The mechanisms exploited by neuromodulators in this respect are manifold: Intrinsic conductances (e.g., calcium, potassium channels), conductance state of postsynaptic receptors, degree of plasticity, and magnitude and kinetics of transmitter release can all be affected. The CPG concept has been generalized to vertebrate motor pattern generating circuits (e.g., for locomotion), which may contain large numbers of neurons – a construct that is sensible, if there is enough redundancy: that is, the large number of neurons consists of only a small number of classes, and the cells within any one class act stereotypically. Here we suggest that CPG and modulator ideas may also help to understand cortical oscillations, normal ones, and particularly transition to epileptiform pathology. Furthermore, in the case illustrated, the mechanism of the transition appears to be an exaggerated form of a normal modulatory action used to influence sensory processing.