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DOI: 10.1101/2022.10.19.512946

Dual receptive fields underlying target and wide-field motion sensitivity in looming sensitive descending neurons

S.Nicholas Y. Ogawa K. Nordstrom
Responding rapidly to visual stimuli is fundamental for many animals. For example, predatory birds and insects alike have amazing target detection abilities, with incredibly short neural and behavioral delays, enabling efficient prey capture. Similarly, looming objects need to be rapidly avoided to ensure immediate survival, as these could represent approaching predators. Male Eristalis tenax hoverflies are non-predatory, highly territorial insects, that perform high-speed pursuits of conspecifics and other territorial intruders. During the initial stages of the pursuit the retinal projection of the target is very small, but grows to a larger object before physical interaction. Supporting such behaviors, E. tenax and other insects have both target-tuned and loom-sensitive neurons in the optic lobes and the descending pathways. We here show that these visual stimuli are not necessarily encoded in parallel. Indeed, we describe a class of descending neurons that respond to small targets, to looming and to widefield stimuli. We show that these neurons have two distinct receptive fields where the dorsal receptive field is sensitive to the motion of small targets and the ventral receptive field responds to larger objects or widefield stimuli. Our data suggest that the two receptive fields have different pre-synaptic input, where the inputs are not linearly summed. This novel and unique arrangement could support different behaviors, including obstacle avoidance, flower landing, target pursuit or capture.