Descending Control of Limb Movements in Drosophila melanogaster
Because the interactions between feedforward influences are inextricably linked during many motor outputs (including but not limited to walking), the contribution of descending inputs to the generation of movements is difficult to study. Here we take advantage of the relatively small number of descending neurons (DNs) in the Drosophila melanogaster model system. We first characterize the number and distribution of the DN populations, then present a novel load free preparation, which enables the study of descending control on limb movements in a context where sensory feedback can be is reduced while leaving the nervous system, musculature, and cuticle of the animal relatively intact. Lastly we use in-vivo whole cell patch clamp electrophysiology to characterize the role of individual DNs in response to specific sensory stimuli and in relationship to movement. We find that there are approximately 1100 DNs in Drosophila that are distributed across six clusters. Input from these DNs is not necessary for coordinated motor activity, which can be generated by the thoracic ganglion, but is necessary for the specific combinations of joint movements typically observed in walking. Lastly, we identify a particular cluster of DNs that are tuned to sensory stimuli and innervate the leg neuromeres. We propose that a multi-layered interaction between these DNs, other DNs, and motor circuits in the thoracic ganglia enable the diverse but well-coordinated range of motor outputs an animal might exhibit.
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