Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Neuroscience Institute

First Advisor

Donald Edwards

Second Advisor

Robert Clewley

Third Advisor

Daniel Cattaert

Fourth Advisor

Andrey Shilnikov

Fifth Advisor

Remus Osan


Sensorimotor circuits integrate biomechanical feedback with ongoing motor activity to produce behaviors that adapt to unpredictable environments. Reflexes are critical in modulating motor output by facilitating rapid responses. During posture, resistance reflexes generate negative feedback that opposes perturbations to stabilize a body. During walking, assistance reflexes produce positive feedback that facilitates fast transitions between swing and stance of each step cycle.

Until recently, sensorimotor networks have been studied using biomechanical feedback based on external perturbations in the presence or absence of intrinsic motor activity. Experiments in which biomechanical feedback driven by intrinsic motor activity is studied in the absence of perturbation have been limited. Thus, it is unclear whether feedback plays a role in facilitating transitions between behavioral states or mediating different features of network activity independent of perturbation. These properties are important to understand because they can elucidate how a circuit coordinates with other neural networks or contributes to adaptable motor output.

Computational simulations and mathematical models have been used extensively to characterize interactions of negative and positive feedback with nonlinear oscillators. For example, neuronal action potentials are generated by positive and negative feedback of ionic currents via a membrane potential. While simulations enable manipulation of system parameters that are inaccessible through biological experiments, mathematical models ascertain mechanisms that help to generate biological hypotheses and can be translated across different systems.

Here, a three-tiered approach was employed to determine the role of sensory feedback in a crayfish locomotor circuit involved in posture and walking. In vitro experiments using a brain-machine interface illustrated that unperturbed motor output of the circuit was changed by closing the sensory feedback loop. Then, neuromechanical simulations of the in vitro experiments reproduced a similar range of network activity and showed that the balance of sensory feedback determined how the network behaved. Finally, a reduced mathematical model was designed to generate waveforms that emulated simulation results and demonstrated how sensory feedback can control the output of a sensorimotor circuit. Together, these results showed how the strengths of different approaches can complement each other to facilitate an understanding of the mechanisms that mediate sensorimotor integration.

Available for download on Wednesday, April 24, 2019