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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Aug;108(4):1052-68. doi: 10.1152/jn.00847.2011. Epub 2012 May 9.

A looming-sensitive pathway responds to changes in the trajectory of object motion.

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Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.


Two identified locust neurons, the lobula giant movement detector (LGMD) and its postsynaptic partner, the descending contralateral movement detector (DCMD), constitute one motion-sensitive pathway in the visual system that responds preferentially to objects that approach on a direct collision course and are implicated in collision-avoidance behavior. Previously described responses to the approach of paired objects and approaches at different time intervals (Guest BB, Gray JR. J Neurophysiol 95: 1428-1441, 2006) suggest that this pathway may also be affected by more complicated movements in the locust's visual environment. To test this possibility we presented stationary locusts with disks traveling along combinations of colliding (looming), noncolliding (translatory), and near-miss trajectories. Distinctly different responses to different trajectories and trajectory changes demonstrate that DCMD responds to complex aspects of local visual motion. DCMD peak firing rates associated with the time of collision remained relatively invariant after a trajectory change from translation to looming. Translatory motion initiated in the frontal visual field generated a larger peak firing rate relative to object motion initiated in the posterior visual field, and the peak varied with simulated distance from the eye. Transition from translation to looming produced a transient decrease in the firing rate, whereas transition away from looming produced a transient increase. The change in firing rate at the time of transition was strongly correlated with unique expansion parameters described by the instantaneous angular acceleration of the leading edge and subtense angle of the disk. However, response time remained invariant. While these results may reflect low spatial resolution of the compound eye, they also suggest that this motion-sensitive pathway may be capable of monitoring dynamic expansion properties of objects that change the trajectory of motion.

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