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Open Access Research article

Localized direction selective responses in the dendrites of visual interneurons of the fly

Christian Spalthoff1*, Martin Egelhaaf1, Philip Tinnefeld2 and Rafael Kurtz1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurobiology, Bielefeld University, Postbox 100131, 33501 Bielefeld, Germany

2 Angewandte Physik - Biophysik, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Amalienstrasse 54, 80799 München, Germany

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BMC Biology 2010, 8:36  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-36

Published: 12 April 2010



The various tasks of visual systems, including course control, collision avoidance and the detection of small objects, require at the neuronal level the dendritic integration and subsequent processing of many spatially distributed visual motion inputs. While much is known about the pooled output in these systems, as in the medial superior temporal cortex of monkeys or in the lobula plate of the insect visual system, the motion tuning of the elements that provide the input has yet received little attention. In order to visualize the motion tuning of these inputs we examined the dendritic activation patterns of neurons that are selective for the characteristic patterns of wide-field motion, the lobula-plate tangential cells (LPTCs) of the blowfly. These neurons are known to sample direction-selective motion information from large parts of the visual field and combine these signals into axonal and dendro-dendritic outputs.


Fluorescence imaging of intracellular calcium concentration allowed us to take a direct look at the local dendritic activity and the resulting local preferred directions in LPTC dendrites during activation by wide-field motion in different directions. These 'calcium response fields' resembled a retinotopic dendritic map of local preferred directions in the receptive field, the layout of which is a distinguishing feature of different LPTCs.


Our study reveals how neurons acquire selectivity for distinct visual motion patterns by dendritic integration of the local inputs with different preferred directions. With their spatial layout of directional responses, the dendrites of the LPTCs we investigated thus served as matched filters for wide-field motion patterns.