A multineuronal proprioceptor, the femoral chordotonal organ (feCO), monitors the position and movements of the tibia of an insect leg. Superfusing the locust metathoracic feCO with the neuromodulator octopamine, or the octopamine agonist synephrine, affects the position (tonic) component of the organ's response, but not the movement (phasic) component. Both octopamine and synephrine act with the same threshold (10(-6) mol l-1). Individual sensory neurones that respond tonically at flexed tibial angles show increased tonic spike activity following application of octopamine, but those that respond at extended angles do not. Tonic spiking of phaso-tonic flexion-sensitive neurones is enhanced but their phasic spiking is unaffected. Bath application of octopamine to the feCO increases the tonic component of presynaptic inhibition recorded in the sensory terminals, but not the phasic component. This inhibition should at least partially counteract the increased sensory spiking and reduce its effect on postsynaptic targets such as motor neurones. Furthermore, some phasic sensory neurones whose spiking is not affected by octopamine nevertheless show enhanced tonic synaptic inputs. The chordotonal organ is not known to be under direct efferent control, but its output is modified by octopamine acting on its sensory neurones to alter their responsiveness to mechanical stimuli and by presynaptic inhibition acting on their central branches. The effects of this neuromodulator acting peripherally on sensory neurones are therefore further complicated by indirect interactions between the sensory neurones within the central nervous system. Increases of sensory neurone spiking caused by neuromodulators may not necessarily lead to parallel increases in the responses of postsynaptic target neurones.

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