Facilitation of neural responses to targets moving against optic flow

Sarah Nicholas, Karin Nordström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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For the human observer, it can be difficult to follow the motion of small objects, especially when they move against background clutter. In contrast, insects efficiently do this, as evidenced by their ability to capture prey, pursue conspecifics, or defend territories, even in highly textured surrounds. We here recorded from target selective descending neurons (TSDNs), which likely subserve these impressive behaviors. To simulate the type of optic flow that would be generated by the pursuer’s own movements through the world, we used the motion of a perspective corrected sparse dot field. We show that hoverfly TSDN responses to target motion are suppressed when such optic flow moves syn-directional to the target. Indeed, neural responses are strongly suppressed when targets move over either translational sideslip or rotational yaw. More strikingly, we show that TSDNs are facilitated by optic flow moving counterdirectional to the target, if the target moves horizontally. Furthermore, we show that a small, frontal spatial window of optic flow is enough to fully facilitate or suppress TSDN responses to target motion. We argue that such TSDN response facilitation could be beneficial in modulating corrective turns during target pursuit.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2024966118
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sep 2021


  • Insect vision
  • Optic flow
  • Sensorimotor
  • Target motion
  • TSDN


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