The accessory medulla (AMe), a small neuropil in the insect optic lobe, has been proposed to serve a circadian pacemaker function analogous to the role of the suprachiasmatic nucleus in mammals. Building upon considerable knowledge of the circadian system of the cockroach Leucophaea maderae, we investigated the properties of AMe neurons in this insect with intracellular recordings combined with dye injections. Responses of neurons with processes in the AMe to visual stimuli, including stationary white light, moving objects, and polarized light were compared with the responses of adjacent medulla tangential neurons. Neurons with processes in the AMe and additional ramifications in the medulla strongly responded to stationary light stimuli and might, therefore, be part of photic entrainment pathways to the clock. Accessory medulla neurons lacking significant processes in the medulla but with projections to the midbrain or to the contralateral optic lobe, in contrast, responded weakly or not at all to light and, thus, seem to be part of the clock's output pathway. Two types of commissural neurons with tangential arborizations in both medullae were sensitive to polarized light, suggesting a role of these neurons in celestial navigation. Sidebranches in the AMae of one of the two cell types are discussed with respect to a possible involvement of the AMe in polarization vision. Finally, neurons responding to movement stimuli did not arborize in the AMe. The results show that the AMe receives photic input and support a role of this neuropil in circadian timekeeping functions.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.