The integration of exteroceptive information in the flight control system of the locust was studied by determining the cellular basis of ocellar- (simple eye) mediated control of flight. Neural interactions that transform phase-independent sensory input into phase-specific motor output were characterized. Ocellar information about course deviations during flight was conveyed to the segmental thoracic ganglia by three pairs of large fast multimodal descending neurons. These made connections with thoracic motoneurons directly, via short-latency mono-or disynaptic pathways, and indirectly, via a population of intercalated thoracic interneurons. The synaptic potentials caused in the motoneurons by the direct pathway occurred at short latency and were adequate for summation with other types of sensory input. However, the strength of the synaptic effects of this pathway was weak compared with the central flight oscillator drive to the same motoneurons. In contrast, synaptic potentials evoked by the descending neurons in the thoracic interneurons were often large and brought these cells close to threshold. In turn, these interneurons always had stronger synaptic effects on postsynaptic flight motoneurons than did the descending neurons alone. We conclude that the indirect interneuronal pathway is more powerful in its effects on motoneurons than the direct pathway. Premotor thoracic interneurons, which received ocellar input appropriate for a role in correctional steering, were also rhythmically modulated during flight motor activity in phase with either depressor or elevator motoneurons. This phasic modulatory drive occurred in deafferented preparations, indicating that its source is the central oscillator for flight. Presentation of ocellar stimulation during flight motor activity showed that the central oscillatory modulation of the thoracic interneurons gated the transmission of sensory information through these interneurons. Ocellar-mediated postsynaptic potentials influenced the firing of thoracic interneurons only if they arrived during the proper phase of rhythmic drive. Thus the transmission of ocellar information from interneuron to motor neuron is possible only during appropriate phases of the flight cycle.
- Copyright © 1985 the American Physiological Society