How active membrane conductance dynamics tunes neurons for specific time-varying stimuli remains poorly understood. We studied the biophysical mechanisms by which spike frequency adaptation shapes visual stimulus selectivity in an identified visual interneuron of the locust. The lobula giant movement detector (LGMD) responds preferentially to objects approaching on a collision course with the locust. Using calcium imaging, pharmacology and modeling, we show that spike frequency adaptation in the LGMD is mediated by a Ca2+-dependent potassium conductance closely resembling those associated with 'small-conductance' (SK) channels. Intracellular block of this conductance minimally affected the LGMD's response to approaching stimuli, but substantially increased its response to translating ones. Thus, spike frequency adaptation contributes to the neuron's tuning by selectively decreasing its responses to nonpreferred stimuli. Our results identify a new mechanism by which spike frequency adaptation may tune visual neurons to behaviorally relevant stimuli.
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