Connecting brain to behaviour: a role for general purpose steering circuits in insect orientation?

J Exp Biol. 2020 Mar 11;223(Pt 5):jeb212332. doi: 10.1242/jeb.212332.


The lateral accessory lobes (LALs), paired structures that are homologous among all insect species, have been well studied for their role in pheromone tracking in silkmoths and phonotaxis in crickets, where their outputs have been shown to correlate with observed motor activity. Further studies have shown more generally that the LALs are crucial both for an insect's ability to steer correctly and for organising the outputs of the descending pathways towards the motor centres. In this context, we propose a framework by which the LALs may be generally involved in generating steering commands across a variety of insects and behaviours. Across different behaviours, we see that the LAL is involved in generating two kinds of steering: (1) search behaviours and (2) targeted steering driven by direct sensory information. Search behaviours are generated when the current behaviourally relevant cues are not available, and a well-described LAL subnetwork produces activity which increases sampling of the environment. We propose that, when behaviourally relevant cues are available, the LALs may integrate orientation information from several sensory modalities, thus leading to a collective output for steering driven by those cues. These steering commands are then sent to the motor centres, and an additional efference copy is sent back to the orientation-computing areas. In summary, we have taken known aspects of the neurophysiology and function of the insect LALs and generated a speculative framework that suggests how LALs might be involved in steering control for a variety of complex real-world behaviours in insects.

Keywords: Central complex; Insect navigation; Lateral accessory lobe; Motor control; Orientation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cues
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Orientation, Spatial / physiology*