A Target-Detecting Visual Neuron in the Dragonfly Locks on to Selectively Attended Targets

Benjamin H. Lancer, Bernard J.E. Evans, Joseph M. Fabian, David C. O'Carroll, Steven D. Wiederman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The visual world projects a complex and rapidly changing image onto the retina of many animal species. This presents computational challenges for those animals reliant on visual processing to provide an accurate representation of the world. One such challenge is parsing a visual scene for the most salient targets, such as the selection of prey amid a swarm. The ability to selectively prioritize processing of some stimuli over others is known as 'selective attention'. We recently identified a dragonfly visual neuron called 'Centrifugal Small Target Motion Detector 1' (CSTMD1) that exhibits selective attention when presented with multiple, equally salient targets. Here we conducted in vivo, electrophysiological recordings from CSTMD1 in wild-caught male dragonflies (Hemicordulia tau), while presenting visual stimuli on an LCD monitor. To identify the target selected in any given trial, we uniquely modulated the intensity of the moving targets (frequency tagging). We found that the frequency information of the selected target is preserved in the neuronal response, while the distracter is completely ignored. We also show that the competitive system that underlies selection in this neuron can be biased by the presentation of a preceding target on the same trajectory, even when it is of lower contrast than an abrupt, novel distracter. With this improved method for identifying and biasing target selection in CSTMD1, the dragonfly provides an ideal animal model system to probe the neuronal mechanisms underlying selective attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8497-8509
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number43
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • insect vision
  • predictive gain modulation
  • priming
  • selective attention
  • target detection
  • winner-takes-all


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