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Motor activity, like that producing locomotion, is generated by networks of neurons. At the last output level of these networks are the motor neurons, which send signals to the muscles, causing them to contract. Current research in motor control is focused on finding out how motor neurons contribute to shaping the timing of motor behaviors. Are motor neurons just passive relayers of the signals they receive? Or, do motor neurons shape the signals before passing them on to the muscles, thereby influencing the timing of the behavior? It is now well accepted that motor neurons have active, intrinsic membrane properties - there are ion channels in the cell membrane that allow motor neurons to respond to input in non-linear and diverse ways. However, few direct tests of the role of motor neuron intrinsic properties in shaping motor behavior have been carried out, and many questions remain about the role of specific ion channel genes in motor neuron function. In this study, two potassium channel transgenes were expressed in Drosophila larvae, causing motor neurons to fire at lower levels of current stimulation and at higher frequencies, thereby increasing excitability. Mosaic animals were created in which some identified motor neurons expressed the transgenes while others did not. Motor output underlying crawling was compared in muscles innervated by control and experimental neurons in the same animals. Counterintuitively, no effect of the transgenic manipulation on motor output was seen. Future experiments are outlined to determine how the larval nervous system produces normal motor output in the face of altered motor neuron excitability.
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