A muscarinic cholinergic mechanism underlies activation of the central pattern generator for locust flight

Edgar Buhl, Klaus Schildberger, Paul A. Stevenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


A central question in behavioural control is how central pattern generators ( CPGs) for locomotion are activated. This paper disputes the key role generally accredited to octopamine in activating the CPG for insect flight. In deafferented locusts, fictive flight was initiated by bath application of the muscarinic agonist pilocarpine, the acetylcholine analogue carbachol, and the acetylcholinesterase blocker eserine, but not by nicotine. Furthermore, in addition to octopamine, various other amines including dopamine, tyramine and histamine all induced fictive flight, but not serotonin or the amine- precursor amino acid tyrosine. However, flight initiation was not reversibly blocked by aminergic antagonists, and was still readily elicited by both natural stimulation ( wind) and pilocarpine in reserpinized, amine- depleted locusts. By contrast, the muscarinic antagonists atropine and scopolamine reversibly blocked flight initiated by wind, cholinergic agonists, octopamine, and by selective stimulation of a flight-initiating interneurone ( TCG). The short delay from TCG stimulation to flight onset suggests that TCG acts directly on the flight CPG, and accordingly that TCG, or its follower cell within the flight generating circuit, is cholinergic. We conclude that acetylcholine acting via muscarinic receptors is the key neurotransmitter in the mechanism underlying the natural activation of the locust flight CPG. Amines are not essential for this, but must be considered as potential neuromodulators for facilitating flight release and tuning the motor pattern. We speculate that muscarinic activation coupled to aminergic facilitation may be a general feature of behavioural control in insects for ensuring conditional recruitment of individual motor programs in accordance with momentary adaptive requirements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2346-2357
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2008


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