A retinal code for motion along the gravitational and body axes
Self-motion triggers complementary visual and vestibular reflexes supporting image-stabilization and balance. Translation through space produces one global pattern of retinal image motion (optic flow), rotation another. We examined the direction preferences of direction-sensitive ganglion cells (DSGCs) in flattened mouse retinas in vitro. Here we show that for each subtype of DSGC, direction preference varies topographically so as to align with specific translatory optic flow fields, creating a neural ensemble tuned for a specific direction of motion through space. Four cardinal translatory directions are represented, aligned with two axes of high adaptive relevance: the body and gravitational axes. One subtype maximizes its output when the mouse advances, others when it retreats, rises or falls. Two classes of DSGCs, namely, ON-DSGCs and ON-OFF-DSGCs, share the same spatial geometry but weight the four channels differently. Each subtype ensemble is also tuned for rotation. The relative activation of DSGC channels uniquely encodes every translation and rotation. Although retinal and vestibular systems both encode translatory and rotatory self-motion, their coordinate systems differ.
Global mapping shows that mouse retinal neurons prefer visual motion produced when the animal moves along two behaviourally relevant axes, allowing the encoding of the animal's every translation and rotation.