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Abstract

Motion adaptation has been attributed in flying insects a pivotal functional role in spatial vision based on optic flow. Ongoing motion enhances in the visual pathway the representation of spatial discontinuities, which manifest themselves as velocity discontinuities in the retinal optic flow pattern during translational locomotion. There is evidence for different spatial scales of motion adaptation at the different visual processing stages. Motion adaptation is supposed to take place, on the one hand, on a retinotopic basis at the level of local motion detecting neurons and, on the other hand, at the level of wide-field neurons pooling the output of many of these local motion detectors. So far, local and wide-field adaptation could not be analyzed separately, since conventional motion stimuli jointly affect both adaptive processes. Therefore, we designed a novel stimulus paradigm based on two types of motion stimuli that had the same overall strength but differed in that one led to local motion adaptation while the other did not. We recorded intracellularly the activity of a particular wide-field motion-sensitive neuron, the horizontal system equatorial cell (HSE) in blowflies. The experimental data were interpreted based on a computational model of the visual motion pathway, which included the spatially pooling HSE-cell. By comparing the difference between the recorded and modeled HSE-cell responses induced by the two types of motion adaptation, the major characteristics of local and wide-field adaptation could be pinpointed. Wide-field adaptation could be shown to strongly depend on the activation level of the cell and, thus, on the direction of motion. In contrast, the response gain is reduced by local motion adaptation to a similar extent independent of the direction of motion. This direction-independent adaptation differs fundamentally from the well-known adaptive adjustment of response gain according to the prevailing overall stimulus level that is considered essential for an efficient signal representation by neurons with a limited operating range. Direction-independent adaptation is discussed to result from the joint activity of local motion-sensitive neurons of different preferred directions and to lead to a representation of the local motion direction that is independent of the overall direction of global motion. Copyright © 2021 Li, Niemeier, Kern and Egelhaaf.