A unified mechanism for innate and learned visual landmark guidance in the insect central complex

Roman Goulard*, Cornelia Buehlmann, Jeremy E. Niven, Paul Graham, Barbara Webb

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Insects can navigate efficiently in both novel and familiar environments, and this requires flexiblity in how they are guided by sensory cues. A prominent landmark, for example, can elicit strong innate behaviours (attraction or menotaxis) but can also be used, after learning, as a specific directional cue as part of a navigation memory. However, the mechanisms that allow both pathways to co-exist, interact or override each other are largely unknown. Here we propose a model for the behavioural integration of innate and learned guidance based on the neuroanatomy of the central complex (CX), adapted to control landmark guided behaviours. We consider a reward signal provided either by an innate attraction to landmarks or a long-term visual memory in the mushroom bodies (MB) that modulates the formation of a local vector memory in the CX. Using an operant strategy for a simulated agent exploring a simple world containing a single visual cue, we show how the generated shortterm memory can support both innate and learned steering behaviour. In addition, we show how this architecture is consistent with the observed effects of unilateral MB lesions in ants that cause a reversion to innate behaviour. We suggest the formation of a directional memory in the CX can be interpreted as transforming rewarding (positive or negative) sensory signals into a mapping of the environment that describes the geometrical attractiveness (or repulsion). We discuss how this scheme might represent an ideal way to combine multisensory information gathered during the exploration of an environment and support optimal cue integration.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009383
Pages (from-to)30
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2021


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