Tectal microcircuit generating visual selection commands on gaze-controlling neurons.
ABSTRACT: The optic tectum (called superior colliculus in mammals) is critical for eye-head gaze shifts as we navigate in the terrain and need to adapt our movements to the visual scene. The neuronal mechanisms underlying the tectal contribution to stimulus selection and gaze reorientation remains, however, unclear at the microcircuit level. To analyze this complex--yet phylogenetically conserved--sensorimotor system, we developed a novel in vitro preparation in the lamprey that maintains the eye and midbrain intact and allows for whole-cell recordings from prelabeled tectal gaze-controlling cells in the deep layer, while visual stimuli are delivered. We found that receptive field activation of these cells provide monosynaptic retinal excitation followed by local GABAergic inhibition (feedforward). The entire remaining retina, on the other hand, elicits only inhibition (surround inhibition). If two stimuli are delivered simultaneously, one inside and one outside the receptive field, the former excitatory response is suppressed. When local inhibition is pharmacologically blocked, the suppression induced by competing stimuli is canceled. We suggest that this rivalry between visual areas across the tectal map is triggered through long-range inhibitory tectal connections. Selection commands conveyed via gaze-controlling neurons in the optic tectum are, thus, formed through synaptic integration of local retinotopic excitation and global tectal inhibition. We anticipate that this mechanism not only exists in lamprey but is also conserved throughout vertebrate evolution.
Project description:Animals integrate the different senses to facilitate event-detection for navigation in their environment. In vertebrates, the optic tectum (superior colliculus) commands gaze shifts by synaptic integration of different sensory modalities. Recent works suggest that tectum can elaborate gaze reorientation commands on its own, rather than merely acting as a relay from upstream/forebrain circuits to downstream premotor centers. We show that tectal circuits can perform multisensory computations independently and, hence, configure final motor commands. Single tectal neurons receive converging visual and electrosensory inputs, as investigated in the lamprey - a phylogenetically conserved vertebrate. When these two sensory inputs overlap in space and time, response enhancement of output neurons occurs locally in the tectum, whereas surrounding areas and temporally misaligned inputs are inhibited. Retinal and electrosensory afferents elicit local monosynaptic excitation, quickly followed by inhibition via recruitment of GABAergic interneurons. Multisensory inputs can thus regulate event-detection within tectum through local inhibition without forebrain control.
Project description:Visuomotor circuits filter visual information and determine whether or not to engage downstream motor modules to produce behavioral outputs. However, the circuit mechanisms that mediate and link perception of salient stimuli to execution of an adaptive response are poorly understood. We combined a virtual hunting assay for tethered larval zebrafish with two-photon functional calcium imaging to simultaneously monitor neuronal activity in the optic tectum during naturalistic behavior. Hunting responses showed mixed selectivity for combinations of visual features, specifically stimulus size, speed, and contrast polarity. We identified a subset of tectal neurons with similar highly selective tuning, which show non-linear mixed selectivity for visual features and are likely to mediate the perceptual recognition of prey. By comparing neural dynamics in the optic tectum during response versus non-response trials, we discovered premotor population activity that specifically preceded initiation of hunting behavior and exhibited anatomical localization that correlated with motor variables. In summary, the optic tectum contains non-linear mixed selectivity neurons that are likely to mediate reliable detection of ethologically relevant sensory stimuli. Recruitment of small tectal assemblies appears to link perception to action by providing the premotor commands that release hunting responses. These findings allow us to propose a model circuit for the visuomotor transformations underlying a natural behavior.
Project description:Nonmammalian vertebrates have a remarkable capacity to regenerate brain tissue in response to central nervous system (CNS) injury. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether animals recover lost function after injury or whether injury-induced cell proliferation mediates recovery. We address these questions using the visual system and visually-guided behavior in Xenopus laevis tadpoles. We established a reproducible means to produce a unilateral focal injury to optic tectal neurons without damaging retinotectal axons. We then assayed a tectally-mediated visual avoidance behavior to evaluate behavioral impairment and recovery. Focal ablation of part of the optic tectum prevents the visual avoidance response to moving stimuli. Animals recover the behavior over the week following injury. Injury induces a burst of proliferation of tectal progenitor cells based on phospho-histone H3 immunolabeling and experiments showing that Musashi-immunoreactive tectal progenitors incorporate the thymidine analog chlorodeoxyuridine after injury. Pulse chase experiments indicate that the newly-generated cells differentiate into N-?-tubulin-immunoreactive neurons. Furthermore, in vivo time-lapse imaging shows that Sox2-expressing neural progenitors divide in response to injury and generate neurons with elaborate dendritic arbors. These experiments indicate that new neurons are generated in response to injury. To test if neurogenesis is necessary for recovery from injury, we blocked cell proliferation in vivo and found that recovery of the visual avoidance behavior is inhibited by drugs that block cell proliferation. Moreover, behavioral recovery is facilitated by changes in visual experience that increase tectal progenitor cell proliferation. Our data indicate that neurogenesis in the optic tectum is critical for recovery of visually-guided behavior after injury.
Project description:The mechanisms by which the brain selects a particular stimulus as the next target for gaze are poorly understood. A cholinergic nucleus in the owl's midbrain exhibits functional properties that suggest its role in bottom-up stimulus selection. Neurons in the nucleus isthmi pars parvocellularis (Ipc) responded to wide ranges of visual and auditory features, but they were not tuned to particular values of those features. Instead, they encoded the relative strengths of stimuli across the entirety of space. Many neurons exhibited switch-like properties, abruptly increasing their responses to a stimulus in their receptive field when it became the strongest stimulus. This information propagates directly to the optic tectum, a structure involved in gaze control and stimulus selection, as periodic (25-50 Hz) bursts of cholinergic activity. The functional properties of Ipc neurons resembled those of a salience map, a core component in computational models for spatial attention and gaze control.
Project description:The zebrafish is an established model to study the development and function of visual neuronal circuits in vivo, largely due to their optical accessibility at embryonic and larval stages. In the past decade multiple experimental paradigms have been developed to study visually-driven behaviours, particularly those regulated by the optic tectum, the main visual centre in lower vertebrates. With few exceptions these techniques are limited to young larvae (7-9 days post-fertilisation, dpf). However, many forms of visually-driven behaviour, such as shoaling, emerge at later developmental stages. Consequently, there is a need for an experimental paradigm to image the visual system in zebrafish larvae beyond 9 dpf. Here, we show that using NBT:GCaMP3 line allows for imaging neuronal activity in the optic tectum in late stage larvae until at least 21 dpf. Utilising this line, we have characterised the receptive field properties of tectal neurons of the 2-3 weeks old fish in the cell bodies and the neuropil. The NBT:GCaMP3 line provides a complementary approach and additional opportunities to study neuronal activity in late stage zebrafish larvae.
Project description:The optic tectum of zebrafish is involved in behavioral responses that require the detection of small objects. The superficial layers of the tectal neuropil receive input from retinal axons, while its deeper layers convey the processed information to premotor areas. Imaging with a genetically encoded calcium indicator revealed that the deep layers, as well as the dendrites of single tectal neurons, are preferentially activated by small visual stimuli. This spatial filtering relies on GABAergic interneurons (using the neurotransmitter ?-aminobutyric acid) that are located in the superficial input layer and respond only to large visual stimuli. Photo-ablation of these cells with KillerRed, or silencing of their synaptic transmission, eliminates the size tuning of deeper layers and impairs the capture of prey.
Project description:Escape behaviors deliver organisms away from imminent catastrophe. Here, we characterize behavioral responses of freely swimming larval zebrafish to looming visual stimuli simulating predators. We report that the visual system alone can recruit lateralized, rapid escape motor programs, similar to those elicited by mechanosensory modalities. Two-photon calcium imaging of retino-recipient midbrain regions isolated the optic tectum as an important center processing looming stimuli, with ensemble activity encoding the critical image size determining escape latency. Furthermore, we describe activity in retinal ganglion cell terminals and superficial inhibitory interneurons in the tectum during looming and propose a model for how temporal dynamics in tectal periventricular neurons might arise from computations between these two fundamental constituents. Finally, laser ablations of hindbrain circuitry confirmed that visual and mechanosensory modalities share the same premotor output network. We establish a circuit for the processing of aversive stimuli in the context of an innate visual behavior.
Project description:As animals forage for food and water or evade predators, they must rapidly decide what visual features in the environment deserve attention. In vertebrates, this visuomotor computation is implemented within the neural circuits of the optic tectum (superior colliculus in mammals). However, the mechanisms by which tectum decides whether to approach or evade remain unclear, and also which neural mechanisms underlie this behavioral choice. To address this problem, we used an eye-brain-spinal cord preparation to evaluate how the lamprey responds to visual inputs with distinct stimulus-dependent motor patterns. Using ventral root activity as a behavioral readout, we classified 2 main types of fictive motor responses: (i) a unilateral burst response corresponding to orientation of the head toward slowly expanding or moving stimuli, particularly within the anterior visual field, and (ii) a unilateral or bilateral burst response triggering fictive avoidance in response to rapidly expanding looming stimuli or moving bars. A selective pharmacological blockade revealed that the brainstem-projecting neurons in the deep layer of the tectum in interaction with local inhibitory interneurons are responsible for selecting between these 2 visually triggered motor actions conveyed through downstream reticulospinal circuits. We suggest that these visual decision-making circuits had evolved in the common ancestor of vertebrates and have been conserved throughout vertebrate phylogeny.
Project description:Communication between optic tecta/superior colliculi is thought to be required for sensorimotor behaviors by comparing inputs across the midline, however the development of and the role of visual experience in the function and plasticity of intertectal connections are unclear. We combined neuronal tracing, in vivo time-lapse imaging, and electrophysiology to characterize the structural and functional development of intertectal axons and synapses in Xenopus tadpole optic tectum. We find that intertectal connections are established early during optic tectal circuit development. We determined the neurotransmitter identity of intertectal neurons using both rabies virus-mediated tracing combined with post-hoc immunohistochemistry, and electrophysiology. Excitatory and inhibitory intertectal neuronal somata are similarly distributed throughout the tectum. Excitatory and inhibitory intertectal axons are structurally similar and elaborate broadly in the contralateral tectum. We demonstrate that intertectal and retinotectal axons converge onto tectal neurons by recording postsynaptic currents after stimulating intertectal and retinotectal inputs. Cutting the intertectal commissure removes synaptic responses to contralateral tectal stimulation. In vivo time-lapse imaging demonstrated that visual experience drives plasticity in intertectal bouton size and dynamics. Finally, visual experience coordinately drives the maturation of excitatory and inhibitory intertectal inputs by increasing AMPA- and GABA-receptor mediated currents, comparable to experience-dependent maturation of retinotectal inputs. These data indicate that visual experience regulates plasticity of excitatory and inhibitory intertectal inputs, maintaining the excitatory: inhibitory ratio of intertectal input. These studies place intertectal inputs as key players in tectal circuit development and suggest that they may play a role in sensory information processing critical to sensorimotor behaviors.
Project description:Detection of moving objects is an essential skill for animals to hunt prey, recognize conspecifics and avoid predators. The zebrafish, as a vertebrate model, primarily uses its elaborate visual system to distinguish moving objects against background scenes. The optic tectum (OT) receives and integrates inputs from various types of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), including direction-selective (DS) RGCs and size-selective RGCs, and is required for both prey capture and predator avoidance. However, it remains largely unknown how motion information is processed within the OT. Here we performed in vivo whole-cell recording and calcium imaging to investigate the role of superficial interneurons (SINs), a specific type of optic tectal neurons, in motion detection of larval zebrafish. SINs mainly receive excitatory synaptic inputs, exhibit transient ON- or OFF-type of responses evoked by light flashes, and possess a large receptive field (RF). One fifth of SINs are DS and classified into two subsets with separate preferred directions. Furthermore, SINs show size-dependent responses to moving dots. They are efficiently activated by moving objects but not static ones, capable of showing sustained responses to moving objects and having less visual adaptation than periventricular neurons (PVNs), the principal tectal cells. Behaviorally, ablation of SINs impairs prey capture, which requires local motion detection, but not global looming-evoked escape. Finally, starvation enhances the gain of SINs' motion responses while maintaining their size tuning and DS. These results indicate that SINs serve as a motion detector for sensing and localizing sized moving objects in the visual field.