Descending influences on escape behavior and motor pattern in the cockroach

Xiao Jun Wang, Chen Gao, Robert B. Norgren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The escape behavior of the cockroach is a ballistic behavior with well characterized kinematics. The circuitry known to control the behavior lies in the thoracic ganglia, abdominal ganglia, and abdominal nerve cord. Some evidence suggests inputs may occur from the brain or suboesophageal ganglion. We tested this notion by decapitating cockroaches, removing all descending inputs, and evoking escape responses. The decapitated cockroaches exhibited directionally appropriate escape turns. However, there was a front-to-back gradient of change: the front legs moved little if at all, the middle legs moved in the proper direction but with reduced excursion, and the rear legs moved normally. The same pattern was seen when only inputs from the brain were removed, the suboesophageal ganglion remaining intact and connected to the thoracic ganglia. Electromyogram (EMG) analysis showed that the loss of or reduction in excursion was accompanied by a loss of or reduction in fast motor neuron activity. The loss of fast motor neuron activity was also observed in a reduced preparation in which descending neural signals were reversibly blocked via an isotonic sucrose solution superfusing the neck connectives, indicating that the changes seen were not due to trauma. Our data demonstrate that while the thoracic circuitry is sufficient to produce directional escape, lesion or blockage of the connective affects the excitability of components of the escape circuitry. Because of the rapidity of the escape response, such effects are likely due to the elimination of tonic descending inputs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-28
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Neurobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


  • Descending inputs
  • Escape behavior
  • Periplaneta americana

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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