A rampwise stretch of the femoral chordotonal organ is known often to elicit a response in the active decerebrate stick insect that is termed an ‘active reaction’, and which can be considered to represent part of the step cycle. During the first part of the response, the flexor motor neurones are excited and the excitatory extensor motor neurones are inhibited, forming a positive feedback loop. When the chordotonal organ reaches a position corresponding to a flexed femur-tibia joint, the flexor motor neurones are inhibited and the extensor motor neurones are excited.
In this study, extracellular and intracellular recordings showed that, during an active reaction, the excitation of the retractor unguis motor neurones usually paralleled that of the flexor motor neurones, whereas the protractor coxae motor neurones were less strongly coupled to this system.
The first part of the active reaction occurred only at low stimulus velocities. At high stimulus velocities negative feedback was present. The first part therefore represents some kind of velocity-control-system for active flexions.
Electrical stimulation of the nerve containing the axons of trochanteral campaniform sensilla and of the hairfield trHP decreased the likelihood that concurrent chordotonal organ stimulation would elicit an active reaction. Furthermore, most of the active reactions that occurred under these stimulus conditions involved only the flexor tibiae muscle.
The results indicate that: the walking pattern generator is composed of subunits that are only loosely coupled centrally; it probably does not include a central pattern generator; and generation of an active reaction is a two-step process.