In insects, the coordinated motor output required for walking is based on the interaction between local pattern-generating networks providing basic rhythmicity and leg sensory signals which modulate this output on a cycle-to-cycle basis. How this interplay changes speed-dependently and thereby gives rise to the different coordination patterns observed at different speeds is understood insufficiently. Here, we used amputation to reduce sensory signals in single legs and decouple them mechanically during walking in Drosophila. This allowed for the dissociation between locally-generated motor output in the stump and coordinating influences from intact legs. Leg stumps were still rhythmically active during walking. While the oscillatory frequency in intact legs was dependent on walking speed, stumps showed a high and relatively constant oscillation frequency at all walking speeds. At low walking speeds we found no strict cycle-to-cycle coupling between stumps and intact legs. In contrast, at high walking speeds stump oscillations were strongly coupled to the movement of intact legs on a 1-to-1 basis. While during slow walking there was no preferred phase between stumps and intact legs, we nevertheless found a preferred time interval between touch-down or lift-off events in intact legs and levation or depression of stumps. Based on these findings, we hypothesize that, as in other insects, walking speed in Drosophila is predominantly controlled by indirect mechanisms and that direct modulation of basic pattern-generating circuits plays a subsidiary role. Furthermore, inter-leg coordination strength seems to be speed-dependent and greater coordination is evident at higher walking speeds.
- Received July 26, 2016.
- Accepted September 14, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd