Impact of visual motion adaptation on neural responses to objects and its dependence on the temporal characteristics of optic flow
It is still unclear how sensory systems efficiently encode signals with statistics as experienced by animals in the real world and what role adaptation plays during normal behavior. Therefore, we studied the performance of visual motion-sensitive neurons of blowflies, the horizontal system neurons, with optic flow that was reconstructed from the head trajectories of semi-free-flying flies. To test how motion adaptation is affected by optic flow dynamics, we manipulated the seminatural optic flow by targeted modifications of the flight trajectories and assessed to what extent neuronal responses to an object located close to the flight trajectory depend on adaptation dynamics. For all types of adapting optic flow object-induced response increments were stronger in the adapted compared with the nonadapted state. Adaptation with optic flow characterized by the typical alternation between translational and rotational segments produced this effect but also adaptation with optic flow that lacked these distinguishing features and even pure rotation at a constant angular velocity. The enhancement of object-induced response increments had a direction-selective component because preferred-direction rotation and natural optic flow were more efficient adaptors than null-direction rotation. These results indicate that natural dynamics of optic flow is not a basic requirement to adapt neurons in a specific, presumably functionally beneficial way. Our findings are discussed in the light of adaptation mechanisms proposed on the basis of experiments previously done with conventional experimenter-defined stimuli.