Competing visual flicker reveals attention-like rivalry in the fly brain

Front Integr Neurosci. 2012 Oct 19;6:96. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2012.00096. eCollection 2012.


There is increasing evidence that invertebrates such as flies display selective attention (van Swinderen, 2011a), although parallel processing of simultaneous cues remains difficult to demonstrate in such tiny brains. Local field potential (LFP) activity in the fly brain is associated with stimulus selection and suppression (van Swinderen and Greenspan, 2003; Tang and Juusola, 2010), like in other animals such as monkeys (Fries et al., 2001), suggesting that similar processes may be working to control attention in vastly different brains. To investigate selective attention to competing visual cues, I recorded brain activity from behaving flies while applying a method used in human attention studies: competing visual flicker, or frequency tags (Vialatte et al., 2010). Behavioral fixation in a closed-loop flight arena increased the response to visual flicker in the fly brain, and visual salience modulated responses to competing tags arranged in a center-surround pattern. Visual competition dynamics in the fly brain were dependent on the rate of pattern presentation, suggesting that attention-like switching in insects is tuned to the pace of visual changes in the environment rather than simply the passage of time.

Keywords: Drosophila; electrophysiology; selective attention; steady state visually evoked potentials (ssVEP); virtual environments; visual perception.