Yao, Y., Li, X., Zhang, B., Yin, C., Liu, Y., Chen, W., Zeng, S., Du, J. (2016) Visual Cue-Discriminative Dopaminergic Control of Visuomotor Transformation and Behavior Selection. Neuron. 89(3):598-612.
Animals behave differently in response to visual cues with distinct ethological meaning, a process usually thought to be achieved through differential visual processing. Using a defined zebrafish escape circuit as a model, we found that behavior selection can be implemented at the visuomotor transformation stage through a visually responsive dopaminergic-inhibitory circuit module. In response to non-threatening visual stimuli, hypothalamic dopaminergic neurons and their positively regulated hindbrain inhibitory interneurons increase activity, suppressing synaptic transmission from the visual center to the escape circuit. By contrast, threatening visual stimuli inactivate some of these neurons, resulting in dis-inhibition of the visuomotor transformation and escape generation. The distinct patterns of dopaminergic-inhibitory neural module's visual responses account for this stimulus-specific visuomotor transformation and behavioral control. Thus, our study identifies a behavioral relevance-dependent mechanism that controls visuomotor transformation and behavior selection and reveals that neuromodulation can be tuned by visual cues to help animals generate appropriate responses.