Neuronal representation of visual motion and orientation in the fly medulla
edited by: Mark A. Frye
In insects, the first extraction of motion and direction clues from local brightness modulations is thought to take place in the medulla. However, whether and how these computations are represented in the medulla stills remain widely unknown, because electrical recording of the neurons in the medulla is difficult. As an effort to overcome this difficulty, we employed local electroporation in vivo in the medulla of the blowfly (Calliphora vicina) to stain small ensembles of neurons with a calcium-sensitive dye. We studied the responses of these neuronal ensembles to spatial and temporal brightness modulations and found selectivity for grating orientation. In contrast, the responses to the two opposite directions of motion of a grating with the same orientation were similar in magnitude, indicating that strong directional selectivity is either not present in the types of neurons covered by our data set, or that direction-selective signals are too closely spaced to be distinguished by our calcium imaging. The calcium responses also showed a bell-shaped dependency on the temporal frequency of drifting gratings, with an optimum higher than that observed in one of the subsequent processing stages, i.e., the lobula plate. Medulla responses were elicited by on- as well as off-stimuli with some spatial heterogeneity in the sensitivity for “on” and “off”, and in the polarity of the responses. Medulla neurons thus show similarities to some established principles of motion and edge detection in the vertebrate visual system.