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J Neurophysiol. 2015 Jan 1;113(1):218-31. doi: 10.1152/jn.00478.2014. Epub 2014 Oct 1.

Background complexity affects response of a looming-sensitive neuron to object motion.

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Algoritmi Centre, Industrial Electronics Department, University of Minho, Campus Azurém, Guimarães, Portugal; and.
Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


An increasing number of studies show how stimulus complexity affects the responses of looming-sensitive neurons across multiple animal taxa. Locusts contain a well-described, descending motion-sensitive pathway that is preferentially looming sensitive. However, the lobula giant movement detector/descending contralateral movement detector (LGMD/DCMD) pathway responds to more than simple objects approaching at constant, predictable trajectories. In this study, we presented Locusta migratoria with a series of complex three-dimensional visual stimuli presented while simultaneously recording DCMD activity extracellularly. In addition to a frontal looming stimulus, we used a combination of compound trajectories (nonlooming transitioning to looming) presented at different velocities and onto a simple, scattered, or progressive flow field background. Regardless of stimulus background, DCMD responses to looming were characteristic and related to previously described effects of azimuthal approach angle and velocity of object expansion. However, increasing background complexity caused reduced firing rates, delayed peaks, shorter rise phases, and longer fall phases. DCMD responded to transitions to looming with a characteristic drop in a firing rate that was relatively invariant across most stimulus combinations and occurred regardless of stimulus background. Spike numbers were higher in the presence of the scattered background and reduced in the flow field background. We show that DCMD response time to a transition depends on unique expansion parameters of the moving stimulus irrespective of background complexity. Our results show how background complexity shapes DCMD responses to looming stimuli, which is explained within a behavioral context.


Locusta migratoria; descending contralateral movement detector; looming; optic flow; vison

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