Animals are remarkably stable during high-speed maneuvers. As the speed of locomotion increases, neural bandwidth and processing delays can limit the ability to achieve and maintain stable control. Processing the information of sensory stimuli into a control signal within the sensor itself could enable rapid implementation of whole-body feedback control during high-speed locomotion. Here, we show that processing in antennal afferents is sufficient to act as control signal for a fast sensorimotor loop. American cockroaches Periplaneta americana use their antennae to mediate escape running by tracking vertical surfaces such as walls. A control theoretic model of wall following predicts that stable control is possible if the animal can compute wall position (P) and velocity, its derivative, (D). Previous whole-nerve recordings from the antenna during simulated turning experiments demonstrated a population response consistent with P and D encoding, and suggested that the response was synchronized with the timing of a turn executed while wall following. Here, we record extracellularly from individual mechanoreceptors distributed along the antenna and show that these receptors encode D and have distinct latencies and filtering properties. When summed, receptors transform the stimulus into a control signal that could control rapid steering maneuvers. The D encoding within the antenna in addition to the temporal filtering properties and P dependence of the population of afferents support a sensory encoding hypothesis from control theory. Our findings support the hypothesis that peripheral sensory processing can enable rapid implementation of whole-body feedback control during rapid running maneuvers.
- © 2015. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd