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Motor inhibition affects the speed but not accuracy of aimed limb movements in an insect.

ABSTRACT

When reaching toward a target, human subjects use slower movements to achieve higher accuracy, and this can be accompanied by increased limb impedance (stiffness, viscosity) that stabilizes movements against motor noise and external perturbation. In arthropods, the activity of common inhibitory motor neurons influences limb impedance, so we hypothesized that this might provide a mechanism for speed and accuracy control of aimed movements in insects. We recorded simultaneously from excitatory leg motor neurons and from an identified common inhibitory motor neuron (CI1) in locusts that performed natural aimed scratching movements. We related limb movement kinematics to recorded motor activity and demonstrate that imposed alterations in the activity of CI1 influenced these kinematics. We manipulated the activity of CI1 by injecting depolarizing or hyperpolarizing current or killing the cell using laser photoablation. Naturally higher levels of inhibitory activity accompanied faster movements. Experimentally biasing the firing rate downward, or stopping firing completely, led to slower movements mediated by changes at several joints of the limb. Despite this, we found no effect on overall movement accuracy. We conclude that inhibitory modulation of joint stiffness has effects across most of the working range of the insect limb, with a pronounced effect on the overall velocity of natural movements independent of their accuracy. Passive joint forces that are greatest at extreme joint angles may enhance accuracy and are not affected by motor inhibition.