The critical role of locomotion mechanics in decoding sensory systems

Noah J. Cowan, Eric S. Fortune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


How do neural systems process sensory information to control locomotion? The weakly electric knifefish Eigenmannia, an ideal model for studying sensorimotor control, swims to stabilize the sensory image of a sinusoidally moving refuge. Tracking performance is best at stimulus frequencies less than ∼1 Hz. Kinematic analysis, which is widely used in the study of neural control of movement, predicts commensurately low-pass sensory processing for control. The inclusion of Newtonian mechanics in the analysis of the behavior, however, categorically shifts the prediction: this analysis predicts that sensory processing is high pass. The counterintuitive prediction that a low-pass behavior is controlled by a high-pass neural filter nevertheless matches previously reported but poorly understood high-pass filtering seen in electrosensory afferents and downstream neurons. Furthermore, a model incorporating the high-pass controller matches animal behavior, whereas the model with the low-pass controller does not and is unstable. Because locomotor mechanics are similar in a wide array of animals, these data suggest that such high-pass sensory filters may be a general mechanism used for task-level locomotion control. Furthermore, these data highlight the critical role of mechanical analyses in addition to widely used kinematic analyses in the study of neural control systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1123-1128
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 31 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • Closed-loop model
  • Eigenmannia
  • Electroreception
  • Gymnotiformes
  • Ribbon fin
  • Sensorimotor control
  • Untethered


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