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1 Janelia Publications

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    02/28/19 | Neural basis for looming size and velocity encoding in the Drosophila giant fiber escape pathway.
    Ache JM, Polsky J, Alghailani S, Parekh R, Breads P, Peek MY, Bock DD, von Reyn CR, Card GM
    Current Biology : CB. 2019 Feb 28;29(6):1073. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.079

    Identified neuron classes in vertebrate cortical [1-4] and subcortical [5-8] areas and invertebrate peripheral [9-11] and central [12-14] brain neuropils encode specific visual features of a panorama. How downstream neurons integrate these features to control vital behaviors, like escape, is unclear [15]. In Drosophila, the timing of a single spike in the giant fiber (GF) descending neuron [16-18] determines whether a fly uses a short or long takeoff when escaping a looming predator [13]. We previously proposed that GF spike timing results from summation of two visual features whose detection is highly conserved across animals [19]: an object's subtended angular size and its angular velocity [5-8, 11, 20, 21]. We attributed velocity encoding to input from lobula columnar type 4 (LC4) visual projection neurons, but the size-encoding source remained unknown. Here, we show that lobula plate/lobula columnar, type 2 (LPLC2) visual projection neurons anatomically specialized to detect looming [22] provide the entire GF size component. We find LPLC2 neurons to be necessary for GF-mediated escape and show that LPLC2 and LC4 synapse directly onto the GF via reconstruction in a fly brain electron microscopy (EM) volume [23]. LPLC2 silencing eliminates the size component of the GF looming response in patch-clamp recordings, leaving only the velocity component. A model summing a linear function of angular velocity (provided by LC4) and a Gaussian function of angular size (provided by LPLC2) replicates GF looming response dynamics and predicts the peak response time. We thus present an identified circuit in which information from looming feature-detecting neurons is combined by a common post-synaptic target to determine behavioral output.

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