The small insect brain is often described as an input/output system that executes reflex-like behaviors. It can also initiate neural activity and behaviors intrinsically, seen as spontaneous behaviors, different arousal states and sleep. However, less is known about how intrinsic activity in neural circuits affects sensory information processing in the insect brain and variability in behavior. Here, by simultaneously monitoring Drosophila's behavioral choices and brain activity in a flight simulator system, we identify intrinsic activity that is associated with the act of selecting between visual stimuli. We recorded neural output (multiunit action potentials and local field potentials) in the left and right optic lobes of a tethered flying Drosophila, while its attempts to follow visual motion (yaw torque) were measured by a torque meter. We show that when facing competing motion stimuli on its left and right, Drosophila typically generate large torque responses that flip from side to side. The delayed onset (0.1-1 s) and spontaneous switch-like dynamics of these responses, and the fact that the flies sometimes oppose the stimuli by flying straight, make this behavior different from the classic steering reflexes. Drosophila, thus, seem to choose one stimulus at a time and attempt to rotate toward its direction. With this behavior, the neural output of the optic lobes alternates; being augmented on the side chosen for body rotation and suppressed on the opposite side, even though the visual input to the fly eyes stays the same. Thus, the flow of information from the fly eyes is gated intrinsically. Such modulation can be noise-induced or intentional; with one possibility being that the fly brain highlights chosen information while ignoring the irrelevant, similar to what we know to occur in higher animals
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