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J Neurosci Methods. 2008 Jan 30;167(2):127-39. Epub 2007 Aug 3.

A modular display system for insect behavioral neuroscience.

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  • 1Department of Computation and Neural Systems, Caltech, MC 138-78, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA. reiserm@janelia.hhmi.org

Abstract

Flying insects exhibit stunning behavioral repertoires that are largely mediated by the visual control of flight. For this reason, presenting a controlled visual environment to tethered insects has been and continues to be a powerful tool for studying the sensory control of complex behaviors. To create an easily controlled, scalable, and customizable visual stimulus, we have designed a modular system, based on panels composed of an 8 x 8 array of individual LEDs, that may be connected together to 'tile' an experimental environment with controllable displays. The panels have been designed to be extremely bright, with the added flexibility of individual-pixel brightness control, allowing experimentation over a broad range of behaviorally relevant conditions. Patterns to be displayed may be designed using custom software, downloaded to a controller board, and displayed on the individually addressed panels via a rapid communication interface. The panels are controlled by a microprocessor-based display controller which, for most experiments, will not require a computer in the loop, greatly reducing the experimental infrastructure. This technology allows an experimenter to build and program a visual arena with a customized geometry in a matter of hours. To demonstrate the utility of this system, we present results from experiments with tethered Drosophila melanogaster: (1) in a cylindrical arena composed of 44 panels, used to test the contrast dependence of object orientation behavior, and (2) above a 30-panel floor display, used to examine the effects of ground motion on orientation during flight.

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