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J Insect Sci. 2009;9:7. doi: 10.1673/031.009.0701.

Responses of descending visually-sensitive neurons in the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, to three-dimensional flower-like stimuli.

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Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98155-1800, USA.


Hawkmoths rely on vision to track moving flowers during hovering-feeding bouts. Visually guided flight behaviors require a sensorimotor transformation, where motion information processed by the optic ganglia ultimately modifies motor axon activity. While a great deal is known about motion processing in the optic lobes of insects, there has been far less exploration into the visual information available to flight motor axons. Visual information recorded at this stage has likely arisen from multiple visual pathways, and has potentially been modified by outside sensory information. As a first step, understanding the sensorimotor transformation from transduction of moving flower signals to active flower tracking behavior requires that the visual information available to the thoracic flight control centers be assayed. This paper investigated the response of descending visually sensitive neurons in the cervical connectives of the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta L. (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae), to flower-like stimuli. Because flower structure lends itself to oscillatory (vibratory) motion, the stimuli used in these experiments were discs oscillating in each axis of motion (horizontal, vertical, and looming). Object-sensitive descending-neurons (OSDNs) respond to multiple directions of object motion and do not clearly sort into classes of directional tuning. The broad spatial distribution of directional sensitivities exhibited by OSDNs indicates that the direction of object motion may be encoded on a population scale. Although OSDNs exhibit broad frequency response curves, over the range of frequencies that M. sexta are able to track (0-2 Hz) OSDNs exhibit monotonically increasing response. Additionally, OSDNs respond to discs oscillating at frequencies as high at 6 Hz, indicating that the visual information being sent to thoracic motor control centers is not likely the limiting factor in flower tracking ability.

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