Filtering of Visual Information in the Tectum by an Identified Neural Circuit

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Science  29 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6004, pp. 669-673
DOI: 10.1126/science.1192949

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Small Is Attractive

The optic tectum of zebrafish larvae is required for the detection, tracking, and capture of small, highly motile prey. Del Bene et al. (p. 669) applied a combination of optical, genetic, and pharmacological tools to investigate how neural circuits in the optic tectum filter out low-frequency visual information. Most tectal neurons were tuned to respond selectively to small, moving objects in the fish's visual environment and responded very poorly to large stimuli. This spatial filtering mechanism depended on the activity of a small population of GABAergic, inhibitory interneurons at the tectal surface. Inactivation or destruction of these interneurons removed the size selectivity of deeper neurons and the zebrafish lost their ability to catch prey.


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 γ-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.

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