The complex synaptic pathways onto a looming-detector neuron revealed using serial block-face scanning electron microscopy

Stefan Wernitznig, F. Claire Rind*, Armin Zankel, Elisabeth Bock, Daniel Gütl, Ulrich Hobusch, Manuela Nikolic, Lukas Pargger, Elisabeth Pritz, Snjezana Radulovic, Mariella Sele, Susanne Summerauer, Peter Pölt, Gerd Leitinger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability of locusts to detect looming stimuli and avoid collisions or predators depends on a neuronal circuit in the locust's optic lobe. Although comprehensively studied for over three decades, there are still major questions about the computational steps of this circuit. We used fourth instar larvae of Locusta migratoria to describe the connection between the lobula giant movement detector 1 (LGMD1) neuron in the lobula complex and the upstream neuropil, the medulla. Serial block-face scanning electron microscopy (SBEM) was used to characterize the morphology of the connecting neurons termed trans-medullary afferent (TmA) neurons and their synaptic connectivity. This enabled us to trace neurons over several hundred micrometers between the medulla and the lobula complex while identifying their synapses. We traced two different TmA neurons, each from a different individual, from their synapses with the LGMD in the lobula complex up into the medulla and describe their synaptic relationships. There is not a simple downstream transmission of the signal from a lamina neuron onto these TmA neurons; there is also a feedback loop in place with TmA neurons making outputs as well as receiving inputs. More than one type of neuron shapes the signal of the TmA neurons in the medulla. We found both columnar and trans-columnar neurons connected with the traced TmA neurons in the medulla. These findings indicate that there are computational steps in the medulla that have not been included in models of the neuronal pathway for looming detection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-536
Number of pages19
JournalThe Journal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number2
Early online date12 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • collision detection
  • connectivity
  • LGMD
  • Locust
  • looming
  • medulla
  • SBEM
  • TmA neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

Fields of Expertise

  • Human- & Biotechnology

Treatment code (Nähere Zuordnung)

  • Experimental

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