When a human catches a ball, they estimate future target location based on the current trajectory. How animals, small and large, encode such predictive processes at the single neuron level is unknown. Here we describe small target-selective neurons in predatory dragonflies that exhibit localized enhanced sensitivity for targets displaced to new locations just ahead of the prior path, with suppression elsewhere in the surround. This focused region of gain modulation is driven by predictive mechanisms, with the direction tuning shifting selectively to match the target’s prior path. It involves a large local increase in contrast gain which spreads forward after a delay (e.g. an occlusion) and can even transfer between brain hemispheres, predicting trajectories moved towards the visual midline from the other eye. The tractable nature of dragonflies for physiological experiments makes this a useful model for studying the neuronal mechanisms underlying the brain’s remarkable ability to anticipate moving stimuli.
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- target detection
- motion detection