The motor control of aimed limb movements in an insect
Journal of Neurophysiology 99: 484 - 499. (2007). DOI:10.1152/jn.00922.2007
Page KL, Zakotnik J, Dürr V & Matheson T
Limb movements that are aimed toward tactile stimuli of the body provide a powerful paradigm with which to study the transformation of motor activity into context-dependent action. We relate the activity of excitatory motor neurons of the locust femoro-tibial joint to the consequent kinematics of hind leg movements made during aimed scratching. There is posture-dependence of motor neuron activity, which is stronger in large amplitude (putative fast) than in small (putative slow and intermediate) motor neurons. We relate this posture dependency to biomechanical aspects of the musculo-skeletal system and explain the occurrence of passive tibial movements that occur in the absence of agonistic motor activity. There is little recorded co-activation of antagonistic tibial extensor and flexor motor neurons, and there is differential recruitment of proximal and distal flexor motor neurons. Large-amplitude motor neurons are often recruited soon after a switch in joint movement direction. Motor bursts containing large-amplitude spikes exhibit high spike rates of smallamplitude motor neurons. The fast extensor tibiae neuron, when recruited, exhibits a pattern of activity quite different to that seen during kicking, jumping, or righting: there is no co-activation of flexor motor neurons and no full tibial flexion. Changes in femorotibial joint angle and angular velocity are most strongly dependent on variations in the number of motor neuron spikes and the duration of motor bursts rather than on firing frequency. Our data demonstrate how aimed scratching movements result from interactions between biomechanical features of the musculo-skeletal system and patterns of motor neuron recruitment.