Mushroom Bodies Are Required for Learned Visual Navigation, but Not for Innate Visual Behavior, in Ants

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Summary Visual navigation in ants has long been a focus of experimental study [1, 2, 3], but only recently have explicit hypotheses about the underlying neural circuitry been proposed [4]. Indirect evidence suggests the mushroom bodies (MBs) may be the substrate for visual memory in navigation tasks [5, 6, 7], while computational modeling shows that MB neural architecture could support this function [8, 9]. There is, however, no direct evidence that ants require MBs for visual navigation. Here we show that lesions of MB calyces impair ants’ visual navigation to a remembered food location yet leave their innate responses to visual cues unaffected. Wood ants are innately attracted to large visual cues, but we trained them to locate a food source at a specific angle away from such a cue. Subsequent lesioning of the MB calyces using procaine hydrochloride injection caused ants to revert toward their innate cue attraction. Handling and saline injection control ants still approached the feeder. Path straightness of lesioned and control ants did not differ from each other but was lower than during training. Reversion toward the cue direction occurred irrespective of whether the visual cue was ipsi- or contralateral to the lesion site, showing this is not due simply to an induced motor bias. Monocular occlusion did not diminish ants’ ability to locate the feeder, suggesting that MB lesions are not merely interrupting visual input to the calyx. The demonstrated dissociation between innate and learned visual responses provides direct evidence for a specific role of the MB in navigational memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3438–3443
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number17
Early online date23 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • visual navigation
  • innate visual behavior
  • neural circuitry
  • mushroom body
  • brain lesions
  • procaine hydrochloride
  • wood ants
  • insects
  • visual memory


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