Relating neuronal to behavioral performance: variability of optomotor responses in the blowfly

PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26886. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026886. Epub 2011 Oct 31.


Behavioral responses of an animal vary even when they are elicited by the same stimulus. This variability is due to stochastic processes within the nervous system and to the changing internal states of the animal. To what extent does the variability of neuronal responses account for the overall variability at the behavioral level? To address this question we evaluate the neuronal variability at the output stage of the blowfly's (Calliphora vicina) visual system by recording from motion-sensitive interneurons mediating head optomotor responses. By means of a simple modelling approach representing the sensory-motor transformation, we predict head movements on the basis of the recorded responses of motion-sensitive neurons and compare the variability of the predicted head movements with that of the observed ones. Large gain changes of optomotor head movements have previously been shown to go along with changes in the animals' activity state. Our modelling approach substantiates that these gain changes are imposed downstream of the motion-sensitive neurons of the visual system. Moreover, since predicted head movements are clearly more reliable than those actually observed, we conclude that substantial variability is introduced downstream of the visual system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Diptera / physiology*
  • Female
  • Head Movements / physiology
  • Motion
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Signal-To-Noise Ratio
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*