Persistent Firing and Adaptation in Optic-Flow-Sensitive Descending Neurons

Sarah Nicholas, Karin Nordström

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)
    3 Downloads (Pure)


    A general principle of sensory systems is that they adapt to prolonged stimulation by reducing their response over time. Indeed, in many visual systems, including higher-order motion sensitive neurons in the fly optic lobes and the mammalian visual cortex, a reduction in neural activity following prolonged stimulation occurs. In contrast to this phenomenon, the response of the motor system controlling flight maneuvers persists following the offset of visual motion. It has been suggested that this gap is caused by a lingering calcium signal in the output synapses of fly optic lobe neurons. However, whether this directly affects the responses of the post-synaptic descending neurons, leading to the observed behavioral output, is not known. We use extracellular electrophysiology to record from optic-flow-sensitive descending neurons in response to prolonged wide-field stimulation. We find that, as opposed to most sensory and visual neurons, and in particular to the motion vision sensitive neurons in the brains of both flies and mammals, the descending neurons show little adaption during stimulus motion. In addition, we find that the optic-flow-sensitive descending neurons display persistent firing, or an after-effect, following the cessation of visual stimulation, consistent with the lingering calcium signal hypothesis. However, if the difference in after-effect is compensated for, subsequent presentation of stimuli in a test-adapt-test paradigm reveals adaptation to visual motion. Our results thus show a combination of adaptation and persistent firing in the neurons that project to the thoracic ganglia and thereby control behavioral output.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2739-2748.e2
    Number of pages13
    JournalCurrent Biology
    Issue number14
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2020

    Bibliographical note

    This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


    • adaptation
    • after-effect
    • contrast gain reduction
    • DNHS1
    • DNOVS
    • motion vision
    • output range reduction
    • sustained firing


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