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Published August 15, 2006 | Published
Journal Article Open

Visual stimulation of saccades in magnetically tethered Drosophila


Flying fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster, perform `body saccades', in which they change heading by about 90° in roughly 70 ms. In free flight, visual expansion can evoke saccades, and saccade-like turns are triggered by similar stimuli in tethered flies. However, because the fictive turns in rigidly tethered flies follow a much longer time course, the extent to which these two behaviors share a common neural basis is unknown. A key difference between tethered and free flight conditions is the presence of additional sensory cues in the latter, which might serve to modify the time course of the saccade motor program. To study the role of sensory feedback in saccades, we have developed a new preparation in which a fly is tethered to a fine steel pin that is aligned within a vertically oriented magnetic field, allowing it to rotate freely around its yaw axis. In this experimental paradigm, flies perform rapid turns averaging 35° in 80 ms, similar to the kinematics of free flight saccades. Our results indicate that tethered and free flight saccades share a common neural basis, but that the lack of appropriate feedback signals distorts the behavior performed by rigidly fixed flies. Using our new paradigm, we also investigated the features of visual stimuli that elicit saccades. Our data suggest that saccades are triggered when expanding objects reach a critical threshold size, but that their timing depends little on the precise time course of expansion. These results are consistent with expansion detection circuits studied in other insects, but do not exclude other models based on the integration of local movement detectors.

Additional Information

© The Company of Biologists Ltd 2006. Accepted 5 June 2006. First published online August 3, 2006. The authors gratefully acknowledge M. Reiser and Dr A. Straw for helpful comments on this analysis, and for technical assistance on stimulation and data collection, respectively. G. Card provided aid in the collection and analysis of high-speed video. This work was supported by the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies through grant DAAD19-03-D-0004 from the US Army Research Office.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023