Feb 22, 2024

Fruit fly’s complex symphony of vision

Posted by in category: neuroscience

An orchestra of complex neuronal networks performs a symphonic masterpiece called vision – an exciting field for neurobiologists like Alexander Borst, director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence. In his department’s latest study, the scientists found a microcircuit which inverts excitatory to inhibitory signals and is thus able to transform a single type of neuronal input for multiple purposes. The discovery of this microcircuit is an important puzzle piece for the better understanding of the visual process of the fruit flies Drosophila and ultimately of vision itself.

Vision is one of the most important senses in humans. Accordingly, a large part of the brain is dedicated to processing visual information. In order to compute visual information quickly and accurately, a multitude of neuronal networks must perform a complex interplay — which fruit flies can help us to understand. Surprisingly, besides the obvious differences between the eyes of humans and fruit flies, many parallels can be found in the way how their brains process visual information. Since the visual system of flies is very efficient but significantly less complex than ours, it’s not surprising that this is one of the best understood neuronal network in neuroscience.

In the flies’ visual system, a cascade of cells is responsible to transform light information into direction-specific signals. T4 cells, for example, respond to moving bright edges (ON-pathway), while T5 cells only respond to moving dark edges (OFF-pathway). Both, T4 and T5 cells, have four subtypes that are tuned to the four cardinal directions (front-to-back, back-to-front, upwards and downwards). This means that each neuron only reacts to a specific direction of visual motion, their so-called preferred direction, while showing little reaction when stimulated by a moving edge in other directions (= null direction).

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