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A computer-aided investigation of motion detection units in the fly


Dill, John Cedric (1970) A computer-aided investigation of motion detection units in the fly. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/06J6-SK55.


This work deals with two related areas: processing of visual information in the central nervous system, and the application of computer systems to research in neurophysiology.

Certain classes of interneurons in the brain and optic lobes of the blowfly Calliphora phaenicia were previously shown to be sensitive to the direction of motion of visual stimuli. These units were identified by visual field, preferred direction of motion, and anatomical location from which recorded. The present work is addressed to the questions: (1) is there interaction between pairs of these units, and (2) if such relationships can be found, what is their nature. To answer these questions, it is essential to record from two or more units simultaneously, and to use more than a single recording electrode if recording points are to be chosen independently. Accordingly, such techniques were developed and are described.

One must also have practical, convenient means for analyzing the large volumes of data so obtained. It is shown that use of an appropriately designed computer system is a profitable approach to this problem. Both hardware and software requirements for a suitable system are discussed and an approach to computer-aided data analysis developed. A description is given of members of a collection of application programs developed for analysis of neuro-physiological data and operated in the environment of and with support from an appropriate computer system. In particular, techniques developed for classification of multiple units recorded on the same electrode are illustrated as are methods for convenient graphical manipulation of data via a computer-driven display.

By means of multiple electrode techniques and the computer-aided data acquisition and analysis system, the path followed by one of the motion detection units was traced from open optic lobe through the brain and into the opposite lobe. It is further shown that this unit and its mirror image in the opposite lobe have a mutually inhibitory relationship. This relationship is investigated. The existence of interaction between other pairs of units is also shown. For pairs of units responding to motion in the same direction, the relationship is of an excitatory nature; for those responding to motion in opposed directions, it is inhibitory.

Experience gained from use of the computer system is discussed and a critical review of the current system is given. The most useful features of the system were found to be the fast response, the ability to go from one analysis technique to another rapidly and conveniently, and the interactive nature of the display system. The shortcomings of the system were problems in real-time use and the programming barrier—the fact that building new analysis techniques requires a high degree of programming knowledge and skill. It is concluded that computer system of the kind discussed will play an increasingly important role in studies of the central nervous system.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Engineering
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Engineering and Applied Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • McCann, Gilbert Donald
Thesis Committee:
  • Unknown, Unknown
Defense Date:26 November 1969
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NIHGM 01335
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:08202015-141724571
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9108
Deposited On:20 Aug 2015 22:25
Last Modified:09 Nov 2022 19:20

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