An electrophysiological and kinematic model of Paramecium , the “swimming neuron” - Archive ouverte HAL Access content directly
Preprints, Working Papers, ... Year : 2022

An electrophysiological and kinematic model of Paramecium , the “swimming neuron”

Irene Elices
Anirudh Kulkarni
Léa-Laetitia Pontani
Alexis Michel Prevost
Romain Brette


Abstract Paramecium is a large unicellular organism that swims in fresh water using cilia. When stimulated by various means (mechanically, chemically, optically, thermally), it often swims backward then turns and swims forward again in a new direction: this is called the avoiding reaction. This reaction is triggered by a calcium-based action potential. For this reason, several authors have called Paramecium the “swimming neuron”. Here we present an empirically constrained model of its action potential based on electrophysiology experiments on live immobilized paramecia, together with simultaneous measurement of ciliary beating using particle image velocimetry. Using these measurements and additional behavioral measurements of free swimming, we extend the electrophysiological model by coupling calcium concentration to kinematic parameters, turning it into a swimming model. In this way, we obtain a model of autonomously behaving Paramecium. Finally, we demonstrate how the modeled organism interacts with an environment, can follow gradients and display collective behavior. This work provides a modeling basis for investigating the physiological basis of autonomous behavior of Paramecium in ecological environments. Author Summary Behavior depends on a complex interaction between a variety of physiological processes, the body and the environment. We propose to examine this complex interaction in an organism consisting of a single excitable and motile cell, Paramecium. The behavior of Paramecium is based on trial and error: when it encounters an undesirable situation, it backs up and changes direction. This avoiding reaction is triggered by an action potential. Here we developed an empirically constrained biophysical model of Paramecium’s action potential, which we then coupled to its kinematics. We then demonstrate the potential of this model in investigating various types of autonomous behavior, such as obstacle avoidance, gradient-following and collective behavior.

Dates and versions

hal-03865939 , version 1 (22-11-2022)



Irene Elices, Anirudh Kulkarni, Nicolas Escoubet, Léa-Laetitia Pontani, Alexis Michel Prevost, et al.. An electrophysiological and kinematic model of Paramecium , the “swimming neuron”. 2022. ⟨hal-03865939⟩
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