Neural mechanisms underlying target detection in a dragonfly centrifugal neuron

Bart R H Geurten, Karin Nordström, Jordanna D H Sprayberry, Douglas M. Bolzon, David C. O'Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Visual identification of targets is an important task for many animals searching for prey or conspecifics. Dragonflies utilize specialized optics in the dorsal acute zone, accompanied by higher-order visual neurons in the lobula complex, and descending neural pathways tuned to the motion of small targets. While recent studies describe the physiology of insect small target motion detector (STMD) neurons, little is known about the mechanisms that underlie their exquisite sensitivity to target motion. Lobula plate tangential cells (LPTCs), a group of neurons in dipteran flies selective for wide-field motion, have been shown to take input from local motion detectors consistent with the classic correlation model developed by Hassenstein and Reichardt in the 1950s. We have tested the hypothesis that similar mechanisms underlie the response of dragonfly STMDs. We show that an anatomically characterized centrifugal STMD neuron (CSTMD1) gives responses that depend strongly on target contrast, a clear prediction of the correlation model. Target stimuli are more complex in spatiotemporal terms than the sinusoidal grating patterns used to study LPTCs, so we used a correlation-based computer model to predict response tuning to velocity and width of moving targets. We show that increasing target width in the direction of travel causes a shift in response tuning to higher velocities, consistent with our model. Finally, we show how the morphology of CSTMD1 allows for impressive spatial interactions when more than one target is present in the visual field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3277-3284
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Contrast dependence
  • Elementary motion detection (EMD)
  • Insect vision
  • Spatial interactions
  • Target detection
  • Velocity tuning


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