Biophysics of object segmentation in a collision-detecting neuron
Dewell, Richard Burkett
Collision avoidance is critical for survival, including in humans, and many species possess visual neurons exquisitely sensitive to objects approaching on a collision course. Here, we demonstrate that a collision-detecting neuron can detect the spatial coherence of a simulated impending object, thereby carrying out a computation akin to object segmentation critical for proper escape behavior. At the cellular level, object segmentation relies on a precise selection of the spatiotemporal pattern of synaptic inputs by dendritic membrane potential-activated channels. One channel type linked to dendritic computations in many neural systems, the hyperpolarization-activated cation channel, HCN, plays a central role in this computation. Pharmacological block of HCN channels abolishes the neuron's spatial selectivity and impairs the generation of visually guided escape behaviors, making it directly relevant to survival. Additionally, our results suggest that the interaction of HCN and inactivating K+ channels within active dendrites produces neuronal and behavioral object specificity by discriminating between complex spatiotemporal synaptic activation patterns.