Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 204, Issue 5, pp 487–503 | Cite as

Characterization and modelling of looming-sensitive neurons in the crab Neohelice

  • Julia Carbone
  • Agustín Yabo
  • Damian Oliva
Original Paper


Looming-sensitive neurons (LSNs) are motion-sensitive neurons tuned for detecting imminent collision. Their main characteristic is the selectivity to looming (a 2D representation of an object approach), rather than to receding stimuli. We studied a set of LSNs by performing surface extracellular recordings in the optic nerve of Neohelice granulata crabs, and characterized their response against computer-generated visual stimuli with different combinations of moving edges, highlighting different components of the optical flow. In addition to their selectivity to looming stimuli, we characterized other properties of these neurons, such as low directionality; reduced response to sustained excitement; and an inhibition phenomenon in response to visual stimuli with dense optical flow of expansion, contraction, and translation. To analyze the spatio-temporal processing of these LSNs, we proposed a biologically plausible computational model which was inspired by previous computational models of the locust lobula giant motion detector (LGMD) neuron. The videos seen by the animal during electrophysiological experiments were applied as an input to the model which produced a satisfactory fit to the measured responses, suggesting that the computation performed by LSNs in a decapod crustacean appears to be based on similar physiological processing previously described for the LGMD in insects.


Motion detection Collision avoidance Looming Crustacean Vision 



Descending contralateral movement detector


Feed-forward excitation


Feed-forward inhibition


Lobula giant motion detector


Lateral inhibition


Looming-sensitive neuron


Monostratified lobula giant


Motion-sensitive neuron


Optical flow


Rotational optical flow


Translational optical flow



We thank D. Tomsic, M. Berón de Astrada and F. Magani for fruitful discussions and corrections to this manuscript. This work describes research partially funded by National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), National Agency of Science and Technology (ANPCyT), Grant Number PICT 2012-2765.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing or financial interests.

Ethical standard

All experiments on animals described above were performed in accordance with applicable national legislation and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Ciencia y TecnologíaUniversidad Nacional de QuilmesBernalArgentina

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