The head direction circuit of two insect species

  1. Ioannis Pisokas  Is a corresponding author
  2. Stanley Heinze  Is a corresponding author
  3. Barbara Webb  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  2. Lund University, Sweden


Recent studies of the Central Complex in the brain of the fruit fly have identified neurons with activity that tracks the animal's heading direction. These neurons are part of a neuronal circuit with dynamics resembling those of a ring attractor. The homologous circuit in other insects has similar topographic structure but with significant structural and connectivity differences. We model the connectivity patterns of two insect species to investigate the effect of these differences on the dynamics of the circuit. We illustrate that the circuit found in locusts can also operate as a ring attractor but differences in the inhibition pattern enable the fruit fly circuit to respond faster to heading changes while additional recurrent connections render the locust circuit more tolerant to noise. Our findings demonstrate that subtle differences in neuronal projection patterns can have a significant effect on circuit performance and illustrate the need for a comparative approach in neuroscience.

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All source scripts for producing the data as well as for generatingFigures 6A, 6B, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14 and Tables 1 and 2 are located at

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Ioannis Pisokas

    School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7426-3207
  2. Stanley Heinze

    Biology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-8145-3348
  3. Barbara Webb

    School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


H2020 European Research Council (Grant agreement no. 714599)

  • Stanley Heinze

University Of Edinburgh (Graduate Student Fellowship)

  • Ioannis Pisokas

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Timothy O'Leary, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: November 26, 2019
  2. Accepted: July 6, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: July 6, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: August 11, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Pisokas et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Ioannis Pisokas
  2. Stanley Heinze
  3. Barbara Webb
The head direction circuit of two insect species
eLife 9:e53985.

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