Keeping it together: Mechanisms of intersegmental coordination for a flexible locomotor behavior

Joshua G. Puhl, Karen A. Mesce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The coordination of multiple neural oscillators is key for the generation of productive locomotor movements. In the medicinal leech, we determined that activation and coordination of the segmental crawl oscillators, or unit burst generators, are dependent on signals descending from the cephalic ganglion. In nearly intact animals, removing descending input (reversibly with a sucrose block) prevented overt crawling, but not swimming. Cephalic depolarization was sufficient for coordination. To determine whether descending signals were necessary for the generation and maintenance of posterior-directed intersegmental phase delays, we induced fictive crawling in isolated whole nerve cords using dopamine (DA) and blocked descending inputs. After blockade, we observed a significant loss of intersegmental coordination. Appropriate phase delays were also absent in DA-treated chains of ganglia. In chains, when one ganglion was removed from its neighbors, crawling in that ganglion emerged robust and stable, underscoring that these oscillators operate best with either all or none of their intersegmental inputs. To study local oscillator coupling, we induced fictive crawling (with DA) in a single oscillator within a chain. Although appropriate intersegmental phase delays were always absent, when one ganglion was treated with DA, neighboring ganglia began to show crawl-like bursting, with motoneuron spikes/burst greatest in untreated posterior ganglia.Wefurther determined that this local excitatory drive excluded the swim-gating cell, 204. In conclusion, both long-distance descending and local interoscillator coupling contribute to crawling. This dual contribution helps to explain the inherent flexibility of crawling, and provides a foundation for understanding other dynamic locomotor behaviors across animal groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2373-2383
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 10 2010

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