Modeling Nonlinear Dendritic Processing of Facilitation in a Dragonfly Target-Tracking Neuron

Bo M.B. Bekkouche, Patrick A. Shoemaker, Joseph M. Fabian, Elisa Rigosi, Steven D. Wiederman, David C. O’Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dragonflies are highly skilled and successful aerial predators that are even capable of selectively attending to one target within a swarm. Detection and tracking of prey is likely to be driven by small target motion detector (STMD) neurons identified from several insect groups. Prior work has shown that dragonfly STMD responses are facilitated by targets moving on a continuous path, enhancing the response gain at the present and predicted future location of targets. In this study, we combined detailed morphological data with computational modeling to test whether a combination of dendritic morphology and nonlinear properties of NMDA receptors could explain these observations. We developed a hybrid computational model of neurons within the dragonfly optic lobe, which integrates numerical and morphological components. The model was able to generate potent facilitation for targets moving on continuous trajectories, including a localized spotlight of maximal sensitivity close to the last seen target location, as also measured during in vivo recordings. The model did not, however, include a mechanism capable of producing a traveling or spreading wave of facilitation. Our data support a strong role for the high dendritic density seen in the dragonfly neuron in enhancing non-linear facilitation. An alternative model based on the morphology of an unrelated type of motion processing neuron from a dipteran fly required more than three times higher synaptic gain in order to elicit similar levels of facilitation, despite having only 20% fewer synapses. Our data support a potential role for NMDA receptors in target tracking and also demonstrate the feasibility of combining biologically plausible dendritic computations with more abstract computational models for basic processing as used in earlier studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number684872
JournalFrontiers in Neural Circuits
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Aug 16

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Bioinformatics and Systems Biology


  • BSTMD1
  • dragonfly
  • facilitation
  • insect brain
  • lobula
  • NMDA
  • small target motion detector
  • STMD


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