Feedforward Inhibition Conveys Time-Varying Stimulus Information in a Collision Detection Circuit
Dewell, Richard B.
Feedforward inhibition is ubiquitous as a motif in the organization of neuronal circuits. During sensory information processing, it is traditionally thought to sharpen the responses and temporal tuning of feedforward excitation onto principal neurons. As it often exhibits complex time-varying activation properties, feedforward inhibition could also convey information used by single neurons to implement dendritic computations on sensory stimulus variables. We investigated this possibility in a collision-detecting neuron of the locust optic lobe that receives both feedforward excitation and inhibition. We identified a small population of neurons mediating feedforward inhibition, with wide visual receptive fields and whose responses depend both on the size and speed of moving stimuli. By studying responses to simulated objects approaching on a collision course, we determined that they jointly encode the angular size of expansion of the stimulus. Feedforward excitation, on the other hand, encodes a function of the angular velocity of expansion and the targeted collision-detecting neuron combines these two variables non-linearly in its firing output. Thus, feedforward inhibition actively contributes to the detailed firing-rate time course of this collision-detecting neuron, a feature critical to the appropriate execution of escape behaviors. These results suggest that feedforward inhibition could similarly convey time-varying stimulus information in other neuronal circuits.