A neural basis for gyroscopic force measurement in the halteres of Holorusia

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2008 Oct;194(10):887-97. doi: 10.1007/s00359-008-0361-z. Epub 2008 Aug 27.


Dipteran flight requires rapid acquisition of mechanosensory information provided by modified hindwings known as halteres. Halteres experience torques resulting from Coriolis forces that arise during body rotations. Although biomechanical and behavioral data indicate that halteres detect Coriolis forces, there are scant data regarding neural encoding of these or any other forces. Coriolis forces arise on the haltere as it oscillates in one plane while rotating in another, and occur at oscillation frequency and twice the oscillation frequency. Using single-fiber recordings of haltere primary afferent responses to mechanical stimuli, we show that spike rate increases linearly with stimulation frequency up to 150 Hz, much higher than twice the natural oscillation frequency of 40 Hz. Furthermore, spike-timing precision is extremely high throughout the frequency range tested. These characteristics indicate that afferents respond with high speed and high precision, neural features that are useful for detecting Coriolis forces. Additionally, we found that neurons respond preferentially to specific stimulus directions, with most responding more strongly to stimulation in the orthogonal plane. Directional sensitivity, coupled with precise, high-speed encoding, suggests that haltere afferents are capable of providing information about forces occurring at the haltere base, including Coriolis forces.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Biophysics
  • Coriolis Force*
  • Diptera / anatomy & histology*
  • Diptera / physiology
  • Female
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning / methods
  • Movement / physiology
  • Orientation
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sense Organs / physiology*
  • Sense Organs / ultrastructure
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*