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4 Publications

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    12/10/14 | Internal models direct dragonfly interception steering.
    Mischiati M, Lin H, Herold P, Imler E, Olberg R, Leonardo A
    Nature. 2014 Dec 10:. doi: 10.1038/nature14045

    Sensorimotor control in vertebrates relies on internal models. When extending an arm to reach for an object, the brain uses predictive models of both limb dynamics and target properties. Whether invertebrates use such models remains unclear. Here we examine to what extent prey interception by dragonflies (Plathemis lydia), a behaviour analogous to targeted reaching, requires internal models. By simultaneously tracking the position and orientation of a dragonfly's head and body during flight, we provide evidence that interception steering is driven by forward and inverse models of dragonfly body dynamics and by models of prey motion. Predictive rotations of the dragonfly's head continuously track the prey's angular position. The head-body angles established by prey tracking appear to guide systematic rotations of the dragonfly's body to align it with the prey's flight path. Model-driven control thus underlies the bulk of interception steering manoeuvres, while vision is used for reactions to unexpected prey movements. These findings illuminate the computational sophistication with which insects construct behaviour.

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    12/01/14 | Bone-free: soft mechanics for adaptive locomotion.
    Trimmer BA, Lin H
    Integrative and Comparative Biology. 2014 Dec;54(6):1122-35. doi: 10.1093/icb/icu076

    Muscular hydrostats (such as mollusks), and fluid-filled animals (such as annelids), can exploit their constant-volume tissues to transfer forces and displacements in predictable ways, much as articulated animals use hinges and levers. Although larval insects contain pressurized fluids, they also have internal air tubes that are compressible and, as a result, they have more uncontrolled degrees of freedom. Therefore, the mechanisms by which larval insects control their movements are expected to reveal useful strategies for designing soft biomimetic robots. Using caterpillars as a tractable model system, it is now possible to identify the biomechanical and neural strategies for controlling movements in such highly deformable animals. For example, the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta, can stiffen its body by increasing muscular tension (and therefore body pressure) but the internal cavity (hemocoel) is not iso-barometric, nor is pressure used to directly control the movements of its limbs. Instead, fluid and tissues flow within the hemocoel and the body is soft and flexible to conform to the substrate. Even the gut contributes to the biomechanics of locomotion; it is decoupled from the movements of the body wall and slides forward within the body cavity at the start of each step. During crawling the body is kept in tension for part of the stride and compressive forces are exerted on the substrate along the axis of the caterpillar, thereby using the environment as a skeleton. The timing of muscular activity suggests that crawling is coordinated by proleg-retractor motoneurons and that the large segmental muscles produce anterograde waves of lifting that do not require precise timing. This strategy produces a robust form of locomotion in which the kinematics changes little with orientation. In different species of caterpillar, the presence of prolegs on particular body segments is related to alternative kinematics such as "inching." This suggests a mechanism for the evolution of different gaits through changes in the usage of prolegs, rather than, through extensive alterations in the motor program controlling the body wall. Some of these findings are being used to design and test novel control-strategies for highly deformable robots. These "softworm" devices are providing new insights into the challenges faced by any soft animal navigating in a terrestrial environment.

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    07/17/14 | A spike-timing mechanism for action selection.
    von Reyn CR, Breads P, Peek MY, Zheng GZ, Williamson WR, Yee AL, Leonardo A, Card GM
    Nature Neuroscience. 2014 Jul 17;17(7):962-70. doi: 10.1038/nn.3741

    We discovered a bimodal behavior in the genetically tractable organism Drosophila melanogaster that allowed us to directly probe the neural mechanisms of an action selection process. When confronted by a predator-mimicking looming stimulus, a fly responds with either a long-duration escape behavior sequence that initiates stable flight or a distinct, short-duration sequence that sacrifices flight stability for speed. Intracellular recording of the descending giant fiber (GF) interneuron during head-fixed escape revealed that GF spike timing relative to parallel circuits for escape actions determined which of the two behavioral responses was elicited. The process was well described by a simple model in which the GF circuit has a higher activation threshold than the parallel circuits, but can override ongoing behavior to force a short takeoff. Our findings suggest a neural mechanism for action selection in which relative activation timing of parallel circuits creates the appropriate motor output.

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    03/01/14 | Large-scale, high-density (up to 512 channels) recording of local circuits in behaving animals.
    Berenyi A, Somogyvári Z, Nagy AJ, Roux L, Long JD, Fujisawa S, Stark E, Leonardo A, Harris TD, Buzsáki G
    Journal of Neurophysiology. 2014 Mar;111(5):1132-49. doi: 10.1152/jn.00785.2013

    Monitoring representative fractions of neurons from multiple brain circuits in behaving animals is necessary for understanding neuronal computation. Here, we describe a system that allows high-channel-count recordings from a small volume of neuronal tissue using a lightweight signal multiplexing headstage that permits free behavior of small rodents. The system integrates multishank, high-density recording silicon probes, ultraflexible interconnects, and a miniaturized microdrive. These improvements allowed for simultaneous recordings of local field potentials and unit activity from hundreds of sites without confining free movements of the animal. The advantages of large-scale recordings are illustrated by determining the electroanatomic boundaries of layers and regions in the hippocampus and neocortex and constructing a circuit diagram of functional connections among neurons in real anatomic space. These methods will allow the investigation of circuit operations and behavior-dependent interregional interactions for testing hypotheses of neural networks and brain function.

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