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Nature. 1988 Jan 21;331(6153):262-5.

A neuronal mechanism for sensory gating during locomotion in a vertebrate.

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Department of Zoology, University of Bristol, UK.


The response of the foot to touch during walking depends on whether it is in the air or on the ground. In most animals, reflex responses to external stimuli are similarly adapted to their timing in the locomotor cycle, but there is only fragmentary information about the neural mechanisms involved. In arthropods, reflex modulation can occur in the sensory receptors themselves and in neurons that discharge during locomotion. By recording with dye-filled microelectrodes from neurons in the spinal cord of frog embryos, we describe reflex modulation at the level of sensory interneurons. Sensory inputs from skin receptors excite a specific class of spinal sensory interneuron whose activity leads to reflex bending of the body away from the stimulus. During swimming, these inputs are gated by rhythmic postsynaptic inhibition, so that sensory drive reaches motor neurons only at phases in the locomotor cycle when the resulting contraction would likewise turn the embryo away from the stimulated side. Such gating of sensory pathways could be a general feature of all locomotor systems where responses to sensory stimuli need to be adapted to the phase of locomotion.

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