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Columnar neurons support saccadic bar tracking in Drosophila


Tracking visual objects while maintaining stable gaze is complicated by the different computational requirements for figure-ground discrimination, and the distinct behaviors that these computations coordinate. Drosophila melanogaster uses smooth optomotor head and body movements to stabilize gaze, and impulsive saccades to pursue elongated vertical bars. Directionally selective motion detectors T4 and T5 cells provide inputs to large-field neurons in the lobula plate, which control optomotor gaze stabilization behavior. Here, we hypothesized that an anatomically parallel pathway represented by T3 cells, which provide inputs to the lobula, drives bar tracking body saccades. We combined physiological and behavioral experiments to show that T3 neurons respond omnidirectionally to the same visual stimuli that elicit bar tracking saccades, silencing T3 reduced the frequency of tracking saccades, and optogenetic manipulation of T3 acted on the saccade rate in a push-pull manner. Manipulating T3 did not affect smooth optomotor responses to large-field motion. Our results show that parallel neural pathways coordinate smooth gaze stabilization and saccadic bar tracking behavior during flight.

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