Mechanisms of punctuated vision in fly flight

Benjamin Cellini, Wael Salem, Jean Michel Mongeau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


To guide locomotion, animals control gaze via movements of their eyes, head, and/or body, but how the nervous system controls gaze during complex motor tasks remains elusive. In many animals, shifts in gaze consist of periods of smooth movement punctuated by rapid eye saccades. Notably, eye movements are constrained by anatomical limits, which requires resetting eye position. By studying tethered, flying fruit flies (Drosophila), we show that flies perform stereotyped head saccades to reset gaze, analogous to optokinetic nystagmus in primates. Head-reset saccades interrupted head smooth movement for as little as 50 ms—representing less than 5% of the total flight time—thereby enabling punctuated gaze stabilization. By revealing the passive mechanics of the neck joint, we show that head-reset saccades leverage the neck's natural elastic recoil, enabling mechanically assisted redirection of gaze. The consistent head orientation at saccade initiation, the influence of the head's angular position on saccade rate, the decrease in wing saccade frequency in head-fixed flies, and the decrease in head-reset saccade rate in flies with their head range of motion restricted together implicate proprioception as the primary trigger of head-reset saccades. Wing-reset saccades were influenced by head orientation, establishing a causal link between neck sensory signals and the execution of body saccades. Head-reset saccades were abolished when flies switched to a landing state, demonstrating that head movements are gated by behavioral state. We propose a control architecture for active vision systems with limits in sensor range of motion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4009-4024.e3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 27 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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