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4 Janelia Publications

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    05/25/22 | Accurate angular integration with only a handful of neurons.
    Marcella Noorman , Brad K Hulse , Vivek Jayaraman , Sandro Romani , Ann M Hermundstad
    bioRxiv. 2022 May 25:. doi: 10.1101/2022.05.23.493052

    To flexibly navigate, many animals rely on internal spatial representations that persist when the animal is standing still in darkness, and update accurately by integrating the animal's movements in the absence of localizing sensory cues. Theories of mammalian head direction cells have proposed that these dynamics can be realized in a special class of networks that maintain a localized bump of activity via structured recurrent connectivity, and that shift this bump of activity via angular velocity input. Although there are many different variants of these so-called ring attractor networks, they all rely on large numbers of neurons to generate representations that persist in the absence of input and accurately integrate angular velocity input. Surprisingly, in the fly, Drosophila melanogaster, a head direction representation is maintained by a much smaller number of neurons whose dynamics and connectivity resemble those of a ring attractor network. These findings challenge our understanding of ring attractors and their putative implementation in neural circuits. Here, we analyzed failures of angular velocity integration that emerge in small attractor networks with only a few computational units. Motivated by the peak performance of the fly head direction system in darkness, we mathematically derived conditions under which small networks, even with as few as 4 neurons, achieve the performance of much larger networks. The resulting description reveals that by appropriately tuning the network connectivity, the network can maintain persistent representations over the continuum of head directions, and it can accurately integrate angular velocity inputs. We then analytically determined how performance degrades as the connectivity deviates from this optimally-tuned setting, and we find a trade-off between network size and the tuning precision needed to achieve persistence and accurate integration. This work shows how even small networks can accurately track an animal's movements to guide navigation, and it informs our understanding of the functional capabilities of discrete systems more broadly.

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    11/20/19 | Generation of stable heading representations in diverse visual scenes.
    Kim SS, Hermundstad AM, Romani S, Abbott LF, Jayaraman V
    Nature. 2019 Nov 20;576(7785):126-31. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1767-1

    Many animals rely on an internal heading representation when navigating in varied environments. How this representation is linked to the sensory cues that define different surroundings is unclear. In the fly brain, heading is represented by 'compass' neurons that innervate a ring-shaped structure known as the ellipsoid body. Each compass neuron receives inputs from 'ring' neurons that are selective for particular visual features; this combination provides an ideal substrate for the extraction of directional information from a visual scene. Here we combine two-photon calcium imaging and optogenetics in tethered flying flies with circuit modelling, and show how the correlated activity of compass and visual neurons drives plasticity, which flexibly transforms two-dimensional visual cues into a stable heading representation. We also describe how this plasticity enables the fly to convert a partial heading representation, established from orienting within part of a novel setting, into a complete heading representation. Our results provide mechanistic insight into the memory-related computations that are essential for flexible navigation in varied surroundings.

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    05/22/17 | Angular velocity integration in a fly heading circuit.
    Turner-Evans D, Wegener S, Rouault H, Franconville R, Wolff T, Seelig JD, Druckmann S, Jayaraman V
    eLife. 2017 May 22;6:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.23496

    Many animals maintain an internal representation of their heading as they move through their surroundings. Such a compass representation was recently discovered in a neural population in the Drosophila melanogaster central complex, a brain region implicated in spatial navigation. Here, we use two-photon calcium imaging and electrophysiology in head-fixed walking flies to identify a different neural population that conjunctively encodes heading and angular velocity, and is excited selectively by turns in either the clockwise or counterclockwise direction. We show how these mirror-symmetric turn responses combine with the neurons' connectivity to the compass neurons to create an elegant mechanism for updating the fly's heading representation when the animal turns in darkness. This mechanism, which employs recurrent loops with an angular shift, bears a resemblance to those proposed in theoretical models for rodent head direction cells. Our results provide a striking example of structure matching function for a broadly relevant computation.

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    05/04/17 | Ring attractor dynamics in the Drosophila central brain.
    Kim SS, Rouault H, Druckmann S, Jayaraman V
    Science (New York, N.Y.). 2017 May 04;356(6340):849-53. doi: 10.1126/science.aal4835

    Ring attractors are a class of recurrent networks hypothesized to underlie the representation of heading direction. Such network structures, schematized as a ring of neurons whose connectivity depends on their heading preferences, can sustain a bump-like activity pattern whose location can be updated by continuous shifts along either turn direction. We recently reported that a population of fly neurons represents the animal's heading via bump-like activity dynamics. We combined two-photon calcium imaging in head-fixed flying flies with optogenetics to overwrite the existing population representation with an artificial one, which was then maintained by the circuit with naturalistic dynamics. A network with local excitation and global inhibition enforces this unique and persistent heading representation. Ring attractor networks have long been invoked in theoretical work; our study provides physiological evidence of their existence and functional architecture.

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