WIAS Preprint No. 182, (1995)

Fast and slow waves in the FitzHugh-Nagumo equation


  • Krupa, Martin
  • Sandstede, Björn
  • Szmolyan, Peter

2010 Mathematics Subject Classification

  • 34C37 34E20


  • singularly, perturbed systems, n-homoclinic orbits, FitzHugh-Nagumo equation, travelling waves, singular orbits, perturbations, homoclinic orbits, heteroclinic orbits, Shilnikov coordinates, exchange lemma, inclination-flip points


It is known that the FitzHugh-Nagumo equation possesses fast and slow travelling waves. Fast waves are perturbations of singular orbits consisting of two pieces of slow manifolds and connections between them, whereas slow waves are perturbations of homoclinic orbits of the unperturbed system. We unfold a degenerate point where the two types of singular orbits coalesce forming a heteroclinic orbit of the unpertubed system. Let c denote the wave speed and ∈ the singular perturbation parameter. We show that there exists a C2 smooth curve of homoclinic orbits of the form (c,∈(c)) connecting the fast wave branch to the slow wave branch. Additionally we show that this curve has a unique non-degenerate maximum. Our analysis is based on a Shilnikov coordinates result, extending the Exchange Lemma of Jones and Kopell. We also prove the existence of inclination-filp points for the travelling wave equation thus providing the evidence of the existence of n-homoclinic orbits (n-pulses for the FitzHugh-Nagumo equation) for arbitrary n.

Appeared in

  • J. Differential Equations, 133 (1997), pp. 49-97

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