Intracellular recordings were made from the neuropile processes of thoracic neurones of Locusta migratoria during bilateral kicks of the hindlegs. Electromyographic (EMG) recordings showed that the pattern of flexor and extensor tibiae muscle activity during kicks in this extensively dissected preparation was similar to that seen during a jump. Intracellular recordings from hindleg flexor and extensor motoneurones and from 13 identified interneurones revealed additional features of the motor programme for jumping and kicking and of the mechanism which triggers these events.
There was a discrete burst of activity in the fast extensor tibiae (FETi) motoneurone at the end of the co-contraction phase, generated by a system that appeared to be separate from that triggering the kick. The excitatory connection from FETi to flexors was not responsible for initiating flexor activity and was of little functional importance in maintaining this activity during the co-contraction phase. The initial flexor excitation came from another, unidentified, central source.
A pair of identified interneurones, the M-neurones, discharged with a high frequency burst just prior to the kick. Since these neurones inhibit hindleg flexor tibiae motoneurones, this observation provides further support for their proposed role as the neurones responsible for triggering kicks and jumps. Our data do not support the proposal that the activation of the M-neurones depends on them receiving progressively increasing proprioceptive input during the co-contraction phase. Throughout co-contraction, the M-neurones were hyperpolarized. Their activation was rapid and strong enough to cause them to discharge at rates as high as 400 spikes s−1. We suggest that the pulse-like activation of the M-neurones is produced centrally by a higher order system of interneurones.
Another pair of previously identified interneurones, the C-neurones, were not necessary for the generation of the co-contraction phase of the motor programme. Their pattern of activity and their known connections indicated that they provide additional excitation to the flexors and extensors towards the end of co-contraction.
Many other interneurones discharged either during co-contraction or when a kick was triggered. We conclude that the system generating the motor programme for a kick (jump) is more complex than proposed in previous studies.