Journal of neurophysiology

Amplitude and dynamics of polarization-plane signaling in the central complex of the locust brain.

PMID 25609107


The polarization pattern of skylight provides a compass cue that various insect species use for allocentric orientation. In the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, a network of neurons tuned to the electric field vector (E-vector) angle of polarized light is present in the central complex of the brain. Preferred E-vector angles vary along slices of neuropils in a compasslike fashion (polarotopy). We studied how the activity in this polarotopic population is modulated in ways suited to control compass-guided locomotion. To this end, we analyzed tuning profiles using measures of correlation between spike rate and E-vector angle and, furthermore, tested for adaptation to stationary angles. The results suggest that the polarotopy is stabilized by antagonistic integration across neurons with opponent tuning. Downstream to the input stage of the network, responses to stationary E-vector angles adapted quickly, which may correlate with a tendency to steer a steady course previously observed in tethered flying locusts. By contrast, rotating E-vectors corresponding to changes in heading direction under a natural sky elicited nonadapting responses. However, response amplitudes were particularly variable at the output stage, covarying with the level of ongoing activity. Moreover, the responses to rotating E-vector angles depended on the direction of rotation in an anticipatory manner. Our observations support a view of the central complex as a substrate of higher-stage processing that could assign contextual meaning to sensory input for motor control in goal-driven behaviors. Parallels to higher-stage processing of sensory information in vertebrates are discussed.