Neural circuit tuning fly visual interneurons to motion of small objects. I. Dissection of the circuit by pharmacological and photoinactivation techniques

J Neurophysiol. 1993 Feb;69(2):329-39. doi: 10.1152/jn.1993.69.2.329.


1. Visual interneurons tuned to the motion of small objects are found in many animal species and are assumed to be the neuronal basis of figure-ground discrimination by relative motion. A well-examined example is the FD1-cell in the third visual neuropil of blowflies. This cell type responds best to motion of small objects. Motion of extended patterns elicits only small responses. As a neuronal mechanism that leads to such a response characteristic, it was proposed that the FD1-cell is inhibited by the two presumably GABAergic and, thus, inhibitory CH-cells, the VCH- and the DCH-cell. The CH-cells respond best to exactly that type of motion by which the activity of the FD1-cell is reduced. The hypothesis that the CH-cells inhibit the FD1-cell and, thus, mediate its selectivity to small moving objects was tested by ablating the CH-cells either pharmacologically or by photoinactivation. 2. After application of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) antagonist picrotoxinin, the FD1-cell responds more strongly to large-field than to small-field motion, i.e., it has lost its small-field selectivity. This suggests that the tuning of the FD1-cell to small moving objects relies on a GABAergic mechanism and, thus, most likely on the CH-cells. 3. The role of each CH-cell for small-field tuning was determined by inactivating them individually. They were injected with a fluorescent dye and then ablated by laser illumination. Only photoinactivation of the VCH-cell eliminated the specific selectivity of the FD1-cell for small-field motion. Ablation of the DCH-cell did not significantly change the response characteristic of the FD1-cell. This reveals the important role of the VCH-cells in mediating the characteristic sensitivity of the FD1-cell to motion of small objects. 4. The FD1-cell is most sensitive to motion of small objects in the ventral part of the ipsilateral visual field, whereas motion in the dorsal part influences the cell only weakly. This specific feature fits well to the sensitivity of the VCH-cell to ipsilateral motion that is most pronounced in the ventral part of the visual field. The spatial sensitivity distribution of the FD1-cell matches also the characteristics of figure-ground discrimination and fixation behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diptera / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Fluoresceins
  • Interneurons / drug effects
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Picrotoxin / analogs & derivatives
  • Picrotoxin / pharmacology
  • Sesterterpenes
  • Vision, Ocular / drug effects
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*


  • Fluoresceins
  • Sesterterpenes
  • Picrotoxin
  • 6-carboxyfluorescein
  • picrotoxinin