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Are there separate ON and OFF channels in fly motion vision?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 June 2009

Martin Egelhaaf
Max-Planck-Institut für biologische Kybernetik, Spemannstrasse 38, D-7400 Tübingen, Germany
Alexander Borst
Max-Planck-Institut für biologische Kybernetik, Spemannstrasse 38, D-7400 Tübingen, Germany


Visual information is processed in a series of subsequent steps. The performance of each of these steps depends not only on the computations it performs itself but also on the representation of the visual surround on which it operates. Here we investigate the consequences of signal preprocessing for the performance of the motion-detection system of the fly. In particular, we analyze whether the retinal input signals are rectified and segregate into separate ON and OFF channels, which then feed independent parallel motion-detection pathways. We recorded the activity of an identified directionally selective interneuron (HI-cell) in response to apparent motion stimuli, i.e. sequential brightness changes at two neighboring locations in the visual field, as well as to brightness changes at only a single location. For apparent motion stimuli, the motion-dependent response component was determined by subtracting from the overall response the responses to the individual stimulus components when presented alone. The following conclusions could be derived: (1) Apparent motion consisting of a sequence of increased or decreased brightness at two locations in the visual field have the same optimum interstimulus time interval (Fig. 3). (2) Sequences of brightness steps of like polarity (either increments or decrements) elicit positive and negative motion-dependent response components when mimicking motion in the cell's preferred and null direction, respectively. The motion-dependent response components are inverted in sign when the brightness steps of a stimulus sequence have a different polarity (Fig. 7). (3) The responses to the beginning and the end of a brightness pulse depend on the pulse duration. For pulse durations of less than 2 s, both events interact with each other (Fig. 9). All of these results do not provide any indication that the fly processes motion information in independent ON and OFF motion detectors. Brightness changes of both signs are rather represented at the input of the same movement detectors, and interactions between signals resulting from both brightness increments and decrements take their sign into account. This type of preprocessing of the retinal input is argued to render a motion-detection system particularly robust against noise.

Research Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1992

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