Upon detection of an approaching object the crab Neohelice granulata continuously regulates the direction and speed of escape according to ongoing visual information. These visuomotor transformations are thought to be largely accounted for by a small number of motion-sensitive giant neurons projecting from the lobula (third optic neuropil) towards the supraesophageal ganglion. One of these elements, the monostratified lobula giant neurons of type 2 (MLG2), proved to be highly sensitive to looming stimuli (a 2D representation of an object approach). By performing in vivo intracellular recordings we assessed the response of the MLG2 neuron to a variety of looming stimuli representing objects of different sizes and velocities of approach. This allowed us: a) to identify some of the physiological mechanisms involved in the regulation of the MLG2 activity and to test a simplified biophysical model of its response to looming stimuli; b) to identify the stimulus optical parameters encoded by the MLG2, and to formulate a phenomenological model able to predict the temporal course of the neural firing responses to all looming stimuli; c) to incorporate the MLG2 encoded information of the stimulus (in terms of firing rate) into a mathematical model able to fit the speed of the escape run of the animal. The agreement between the model predictions and the actual escape speed measured on a treadmill for all tested stimuli strengthens our interpretation of the computations performed by the MLG2 and of the involvement of this neuron in the regulation of the animal's speed of run while escaping from objects approaching with constant speed.
- Received December 23, 2015.
- Accepted August 16, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd