Locusts possess an identified neuron, the descending contralateral movement detector (DCMD), conveying visual information about impending collision from the brain to thoracic motor centers. We built a telemetry system to simultaneously record, in freely behaving animals, the activity of the DCMD and of motoneurons involved in jump execution. Cocontraction of antagonistic leg muscles, a required preparatory phase, was triggered after the DCMD firing rate crossed a threshold. Thereafter, the number of DCMD spikes predicted precisely motoneuron activity and jump occurrence. Additionally, the time of DCMD peak firing rate predicted that of jump. Ablation experiments suggest that the DCMD, together with a nearly identical ipsilateral descending neuron, is responsible for the timely execution of the escape. Thus, three distinct features that are multiplexed in a single neuron's sensory response to impending collision-firing rate threshold, peak firing time, and spike count-probably control three distinct motor aspects of escape behaviors.
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