Intra- and intersegmental influences among central pattern generating networks in the walking system of the stick insect

J Neurophysiol. 2017 Oct 1;118(4):2296-2310. doi: 10.1152/jn.00321.2017. Epub 2017 Jul 19.


To efficiently move around, animals need to coordinate their limbs. Proper, context-dependent coupling among the neural networks underlying leg movement is necessary for generating intersegmental coordination. In the slow-walking stick insect, local sensory information is very important for shaping coordination. However, central coupling mechanisms among segmental central pattern generators (CPGs) may also contribute to this. Here, we analyzed the interactions between contralateral networks that drive the depressor trochanteris muscle of the legs in both isolated and interconnected deafferented thoracic ganglia of the stick insect on application of pilocarpine, a muscarinic acetylcholine receptor agonist. Our results show that depressor CPG activity is only weakly coupled between all segments. Intrasegmental phase relationships differ between the three isolated ganglia, and they are modified and stabilized when ganglia are interconnected. However, the coordination patterns that emerge do not resemble those observed during walking. Our findings are in line with recent studies and highlight the influence of sensory input on coordination in slowly walking insects. Finally, as a direct interaction between depressor CPG networks and contralateral motoneurons could not be observed, we hypothesize that coupling is based on interactions at the level of CPG interneurons.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Maintaining functional interleg coordination is vitally important as animals locomote through changing environments. The relative importance of central mechanisms vs. sensory feedback in this process is not well understood. We analyzed coordination among the neural networks generating leg movements in stick insect preparations lacking phasic sensory feedback. Under these conditions, the networks governing different legs were only weakly coupled. In stick insect, central connections alone are thus insufficient to produce the leg coordination observed behaviorally.

Keywords: coordination; locomotion; motor control; phase coupling; pilocarpine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / drug effects
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / physiology*
  • Insecta / drug effects
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Interneurons / drug effects
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / drug effects
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscarinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Nerve Net / drug effects
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Pilocarpine / pharmacology
  • Walking / physiology*


  • Muscarinic Agonists
  • Pilocarpine