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Curr Biol. 2012 Jan 10;22(1):12-20. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.11.028. Epub 2011 Dec 15.

Genetic dissection reveals two separate retinal substrates for polarization vision in Drosophila.

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Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.



Linearly polarized light originates from atmospheric scattering or surface reflections and is perceived by insects, spiders, cephalopods, crustaceans, and some vertebrates. Thus, the neural basis underlying how this fundamental quality of light is detected is of broad interest. Morphologically unique, polarization-sensitive ommatidia exist in the dorsal periphery of many insect retinas, forming the dorsal rim area (DRA). However, much less is known about the retinal substrates of behavioral responses to polarized reflections.


Drosophila exhibits polarotactic behavior, spontaneously aligning with the e-vector of linearly polarized light, when stimuli are presented either dorsally or ventrally. By combining behavioral experiments with genetic dissection and ultrastructural analyses, we show that distinct photoreceptors mediate the two behaviors: inner photoreceptors R7+R8 of DRA ommatidia are necessary and sufficient for dorsal polarotaxis, whereas ventral responses are mediated by combinations of outer and inner photoreceptors, both of which manifest previously unknown features that render them polarization sensitive.


Drosophila uses separate retinal pathways for the detection of linearly polarized light emanating from the sky or from shiny surfaces. This work establishes a behavioral paradigm that will enable genetic dissection of the circuits underlying polarization vision.

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