Recent evidence suggests that flies’ sensitivity to large-field optic flow is increased by the release of octopamine during flight. This increase in gain presumably enhances visually mediated behaviors such as the active regulation of forward speed, a process that involves the comparison of a vision-based estimate of velocity with an internal set point. To determine where in the neural circuit this comparison is made, we selectively silenced the octopamine neurons in the fruit fly Drosophila, and examined the effect on vision-based velocity regulation in free-flying flies. We found that flies with inactivated octopamine neurons accelerated more slowly in response to visual motion than control flies, but maintained nearly the same baseline flight speed. Our results are parsimonious with a circuit architecture in which the internal control signal is injected into the visual motion pathway upstream of the interneuron network that estimates groundspeed.
Coauthored with Marie Suver, Michael Dickinson. Read more at the Journal of Experimental Biology.