The computational basis of an identified neuronal circuit for elementary motion detection in dipterous insects

Charles M. Higgins, John K. Douglass, Nicholas J. Strausfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Based on comparative anatomical studies and electrophysiological experiments, we have identified a conserved subset of neurons in the lamina, medulla, and lobula of dipterous insects that are involved in retinotopic visual motion direction selectivity. Working from the photoreceptors inward, this neuronal subset includes lamina amacrine (α) cells, lamina monopolar (L2) cells, the basket T-cell (T1 or β), the transmedullary cell Tm1, and the T5 bushy T-cell. Two GABA-immunoreactive neurons, the transmedullary cell Tm9 and a local interneuron at the level of T5 dendrites, are also implicated in the motion computation. We suggest that these neurons comprise the small-field elementary motion detector circuits the outputs of which are integrated by wide-field lobula plate tangential cells. We show that a computational model based on the available data about these neurons is consistent with existing models of biological elementary motion detection, and present a comparable version of the Hassenstein-Reichardt (HR) correlation model. Further, by using the model to synthesize a generic tangential cell, we show that it can account for the responses of lobula plate tangential cells to a wide range of transient stimuli, including responses which cannot be predicted using the HR model. This computational model of elementary motion detection is the first which derives specifically from the functional organization of a subset of retinotopic neurons supplying the lobula plate. A key prediction of this model is that elementary motion detector circuits respond quite differently to small-field transient stimulation than do spatially integrated motion processing neurons as observed in the lobula plate. In addition, this model suggests that the retinotopic motion information provided to wide-field motion-sensitive cells in the lobula is derived from a less refined stage of processing than motion inputs to the lobula plate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)567-586
Number of pages20
JournalVisual neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2004


  • Directional selectivity
  • Elementary motion detection
  • Insects
  • Lobula plate tangential cells
  • Visual motion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems


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