Neural circuits in the vertebrate retina extract the direction of object motion from visual scenes and convey this information to sensory brain areas, including the optic tectum. It is unclear how computational layers beyond the retina process directional inputs. Recent developmental and functional studies in the zebrafish larva, using minimally invasive optical imaging techniques, indicate that direction selectivity might be a genetically hardwired property of the zebrafish brain. Axons from specific direction-selective (DS) retinal ganglion cells appear to converge on distinct laminae in the superficial tectal neuropil where they serve as inputs to DS postsynaptic neurons of matching specificity. In addition, inhibitory recurrent circuits in the tectum might strengthen the DS response of tectal output neurons. Here we review these recent findings and discuss some controversies with a particular focus on the zebrafish tectum’s role in extracting directional features from moving visual scenes.
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