Vertebrate locomotion at different speeds is driven by descending excitatory connections to central pattern generators in the spinal cord. To investigate how these inputs determine locomotor kinematics, we used whole-field visual motion to drive zebrafish to swim at different speeds. Larvae match the stimulus speed by utilizing more locomotor events, or modifying kinematic parameters such as the duration and speed of swimming bouts, the tail-beat frequency, and the choice of gait. We used laser ablations, electrical stimulation, and activity recordings in descending neurons of the nucleus of the medial longitudinal fasciculus (nMLF) to dissect their contribution to controlling forward movement. We found that the activity of single identified neurons within the nMLF is correlated with locomotor kinematics, and modulates both the duration and oscillation frequency of tail movements. By identifying the contribution of individual supraspinal circuit elements to locomotion kinematics, we build a better understanding of how the brain controls movement.
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