Parallel Computations in Insect and Mammalian Visual Motion Processing

Curr Biol. 2016 Oct 24;26(20):R1062-R1072. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.08.003.


Sensory systems use receptors to extract information from the environment and neural circuits to perform subsequent computations. These computations may be described as algorithms composed of sequential mathematical operations. Comparing these operations across taxa reveals how different neural circuits have evolved to solve the same problem, even when using different mechanisms to implement the underlying math. In this review, we compare how insect and mammalian neural circuits have solved the problem of motion estimation, focusing on the fruit fly Drosophila and the mouse retina. Although the two systems implement computations with grossly different anatomy and molecular mechanisms, the underlying circuits transform light into motion signals with strikingly similar processing steps. These similarities run from photoreceptor gain control and spatiotemporal tuning to ON and OFF pathway structures, motion detection, and computed motion signals. The parallels between the two systems suggest that a limited set of algorithms for estimating motion satisfies both the needs of sighted creatures and the constraints imposed on them by metabolism, anatomy, and the structure and regularities of the visual world.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Mammals / physiology
  • Mice / physiology*
  • Motion Perception*