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In any animal, the generation of movements is the output of the nervous system through which it interacts with its environment and its conspecifics. This is irrespective of tasks as diverse as communication, manipulation of objects, foraging, yearly migrations, mate choice or escape from predators. Locomotion is one of the behavioral components that plays a significant role in numerous situations, and thus can be considered ethologically as a “multi-purpose behavior”.

In both, vertebrates and invertebrates, the movement inducing motor activity in the different contexts is the result of the integration of multiple inputs. These include descending signals from the brain, the activity of rhythmically active, local neuronal networks, and feedback from mostly proprioceptive sense organs on and in the extremities as well as coordinating input from neighboring limbs.

My lab studies the neuronal basis of locomotion with a particular focus on the generation and control of its flexibility and adaptivity.

For this purpose, we use insects from the groups of the Orthopteriodea, e.g. stick insects, and Diptera, e.g. the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster. We particularly focus on the nature of descending signals from the brain to local pre-motor networks in the thoracic nervous system und their interaction with each other, and with proprioceptive feedback from the legs. The relatively simple anatomy of stick insects and fruitflies allows us to perform our investigations in intact and partially intact animals, that is in preparations where the legs perform active movements.

Our experimental approaches aim at a causal analysis of the relationships between the participating mechanisms, and at understanding the connection between the involved central neurons and networks, and the generation of specific movement kinematics. The applied methods include the use of high-speed video and kinematics analysis, electromyography, force measurements of muscle contractions, extracellular nerve recordings, single- or multi-cell intracellular recordings of neurons with sharp or patch electrodes, opto- and neurogenetic methods, immunocytochemistry and confocal microscopy.

Currently, our research is funded by national and international grants and funding institutions.