Journal of Neurophysiology

Orthopteran DCMD neuron: a reevaluation of responses to moving objects. I. Selective responses to approaching objects

F. C. Rind, P. J. Simmons

Abstract

1. The "descending contralateral movement detector" (DCMD) neuron in the locust has been challenged with a variety of moving stimuli, including scenes from a film (Star Wars), moving disks, and images generated by computer. The neuron responds well to any rapid movement. For a dark object moving along a straight path at a uniform velocity, the DCMD gives the strongest response when the object travels directly toward the eye, and the weakest when the object travels away from the eye. Instead of expressing selectivity for movements of small rather than large objects, the DCMD responds preferentially to approaching objects. 2. The neuron shows a clear selectivity for approach over recession for a variety of sizes and velocities of movement both of real objects and in simulated movements. When a disk that subtends > or = 5 degrees at the eye approaches the eye, there are two peaks in spike rate: one immediately after the start of movement; and a second that builds up during the approach. When a disk recedes from the eye, there is a single peak in response as the movement starts. There is a good correlation between spike rate and angular acceleration of the edges of the image over the eye. 3. When an object approaches from a distance sufficient for it to subtend less than one interommatidial angle at the start of its approach, there is a single peak in response. The DCMD tracks the approach, and, if the object moves at 1 m/s or faster, the spike rate increases throughout the duration of object movement. The size of the response depends on the speed of approach. 4. It is unlikely that the DCMD encodes the time to collision accurately, because the response depends on the size as well as the velocity of an approaching object. 5. Wide-field movements suppress the response to an approaching object. The suppression varies with the temporal frequency of the background pattern. 6. Over a wide range of contrasts of object against background, the DCMD gives a stronger response to approaching than to receding objects. For low contrasts, the selectivity is greater for objects that are darker than the background than for objects that are lighter.