Many insects use patterns of polarized light in the sky to orient and navigate. Here we functionally characterize neural circuitry in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, that conveys polarized light signals from the eye to the central complex, a brain region essential for the fly’s sense of direction. Neurons tuned to the angle of polarization of ultraviolet light are found throughout the anterior visual pathway, connecting the optic lobes with the central complex via the anterior optic tubercle and bulb, in a homologous organization to the ‘sky compass’ pathways described in other insects. We detail how a consistent, map-like organization of neural tunings in the peripheral visual system is transformed into a reduced representation suited to flexible processing in the central brain. This study identifies computational motifs of the transformation, enabling mechanistic comparisons of multisensory integration and central processing for navigation in the brains of insects.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience