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J Neurobiol. 2003 Sep 5;56(3):237-51.

Control of flexor motoneuron activity during single leg walking of the stick insect on an electronically controlled treadwheel.

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Department of Animal Physiology, University of Cologne, Weyertal 119, 50923 Cologne, Germany.


In the present study, motoneurons innervating the flexor tibiae muscle of the stick insect (Cuniculina impigra) middle leg were recorded intracellularly while the single leg performed walking-like movements on a treadwheel. Different levels of belt friction (equivalent to a change in load) were used to study the control of activity of flexor motoneurons. During slow leg movements no fast motoneurons were active, but a recruitment of these neurons could be observed during faster leg movements. The firing rate of slow and fast motoneurons increased with incremented belt friction. Also, the force applied to the treadwheel at different frictional levels was adapted closely to the friction of the treadwheel to be overcome. The motoneurons innervating the flexor tibiae were recruited progressively during the stance phase, with the slow motoneurons being active earlier than the fast (half-maximal spike frequency after 10-15% and 50-60% of the stance phase, respectively). The resting membrane potential was more hyperpolarized in fast motoneurons (64.6 +/- 6.5 mV) than in slow motoneurons (-52.9 +/- 5.4 mV). However, the threshold for the initiation of action potentials was not statistically significantly different in both types of flexor motoneurons. Therefore, action potentials were generated in fast motoneurons after a longer period of depolarization and thus later during the stance phase than in slow motoneurons. We show that motoneurons of the flexor tibiae receive substantial common excitatory inputs during the stance phase and that the difference in resting membrane potential between slow and fast motoneurons is likely to play a crucial role in their consecutive recruitment.

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