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J Neurophysiol. 2010 Sep;104(3):1681-95. doi: 10.1152/jn.00362.2010. Epub 2010 Jul 28.

Activity patterns and timing of muscle activity in the forward walking and backward walking stick insect Carausius morosus.

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Department of Animal Physiology, Zoological Institute, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.


Understanding how animals control locomotion in different behaviors requires understanding both the kinematics of leg movements and the neural activity underlying these movements. Stick insect leg kinematics differ in forward and backward walking. Describing leg muscle activity in these behaviors is a first step toward understanding the neuronal basis for these differences. We report here the phasing of EMG activities and latencies of first spikes relative to precise electrical measurements of middle leg tarsus touchdown and liftoff of three pairs (protractor/retractor coxae, levator/depressor trochanteris, extensor/flexor tibiae) of stick insect middle leg antagonistic muscles that play central roles in generating leg movements during forward and backward straight walking. Forward walking stance phase muscle (depressor, flexor, and retractor) activities were tightly coupled to touchdown, beginning on average 93 ms prior to and 9 and 35 ms after touchdown, respectively. Forward walking swing phase muscle (levator, extensor, and protractor) activities were less tightly coupled to liftoff, beginning on average 100, 67, and 37 ms before liftoff, respectively. In backward walking the protractor/retractor muscles reversed their phasing compared with forward walking, with the retractor being active during swing and the protractor during stance. Comparison of intact animal and reduced two- and one-middle-leg preparations during forward straight walking showed only small alterations in overall EMG activity but changes in first spike latencies in most muscles. Changing body height, most likely due to changes in leg joint loading, altered the intensity, but not the timing, of depressor muscle activity.

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