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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
Animals use information from multiple sensory organs to generate appropriate behavior. Exactly how these different sensory inputs are fused at the motor system is not well understood. Here we study how fly neck motor neurons integrate information from two well characterized sensory systems: visual information from the compound eye and gyroscopic information from the mechanosensory halteres. Extracellular recordings reveal that a subpopulation of neck motor neurons display "gating-like" behavior: they do not fire action potentials in response to visual stimuli alone but will do so if the halteres are coactivated. Intracellular recordings show that these motor neurons receive small, sustained subthreshold visual inputs in addition to larger inputs that are phase locked to haltere movements. Our results suggest that the nonlinear gating-like effect results from summation of these two inputs with the action potential threshold providing the nonlinearity. As a result of this summation, the sustained visual depolarization is transformed into a temporally structured train of action potentials synchronized to the haltere beating movements. This simple mechanism efficiently fuses two different sensory signals and may also explain the context-dependent effects of visual inputs on fly behavior.