New vistas on the initiation and maintenance of insect motor behaviors revealed by specific lesions of the head ganglia

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39 Scopus citations


In insects, thoracic pattern generators are modulated by the two head ganglia, the supraesophageal ganglion (brain) and the subesophageal ganglion, which act as higher-order neuronal centers. To explore the contribution of each head ganglion to the initiation and maintenance of specific motor behaviors in cockroaches (Periplaneta americana), we performed specific lesions to remove descending inputs from either the brain or the subesophageal ganglion or both, and quantified the behavioral outcome with a battery of motor tasks. We show that 'emergency' behaviors, such as escape, flight, swimming or righting, are initiated at the thoracic level independently of descending inputs from the head ganglia. Yet, the head ganglia play a major role in maintaining these reflexively initiated behaviors. By separately removing each of the two head ganglia, we show that the brain excites flight behavior and inhibits walking-related behaviors, whereas the subesophageal ganglion exerts the opposite effects. Thus, control over specific motor behaviors in cockroaches is anatomically and functionally compartmentalized. We propose a comprehensive model in which the relative permissive versus inhibitory inputs descending from the two head ganglia, combined with thoracic afferent sensory inputs, select a specific thoracic motor pattern while preventing the others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1020
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2006


  • Brain
  • Locomotion
  • Pattern generator
  • Periplaneta americana
  • Subesophageal ganglion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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