A fundamental molecular feature of olfactory systems is that individual neurons express only one receptor from a large odorant receptor gene family. While numerous theories have been proposed, the functional significance and evolutionary advantage of generating a sophisticated one-receptor-per neuron expression pattern is not well understood. Using the genetically tractable Drosophila melanogaster as a model, we demonstrate that the breakdown of this highly restricted expression pattern of an odorant receptor in neurons leads to a deficit in the ability to exploit new food sources. We show that animals with ectopic co-expression of odorant receptors also have a competitive disadvantage in a complex environment with limiting food sources. At the level of the olfactory system, we find changes in both the behavioral and electrophysiological responses to odorants that are detected by endogenous receptors when an olfactory receptor is broadly misexpressed in chemosensory neurons. Taken together these results indicate that restrictive expression patterns and segregation of odorant receptors to individual neuron classes are important for sensitive odor-detection and appropriate olfactory behaviors.
Distinguishing subpopulations in group behavioral experiments can reveal the impact of differences in genetic, pharmacological and life-histories on social interactions and decision-making. Here we describe Fluorescence Behavioral Imaging (FBI), a toolkit that uses transgenic fluorescence to discriminate subpopulations, imaging hardware that simultaneously records behavior and fluorescence expression, and open-source software for automated, high-accuracy determination of genetic identity. Using FBI, we measure courtship partner choice in genetically mixed groups of Drosophila.
Flight is an integral component of many complex behavioral patterns in insects. The giant fiber circuit has been well studied in several insects including Drosophila. However, components of the insect flight circuit that respond to an air-puff stimulus and comprise the flight central pattern generator are poorly defined. Aminergic neurons have been implicated in locust, moth and Drosophila flight. Here we have investigated the requirement of neuronal activity in serotonergic neurons, during development and in adults, on air-puff induced flight in Drosophila.
To target serotonergic neurons specifically, a Drosophila strain that contains regulatory regions from the TRH (Tryptophan Hydroxylase) gene linked to the yeast transcription factor GAL4 was used. By blocking synaptic transmission from serotonergic neurons with a tetanus toxin transgene or by hyperpolarisation with Kir2.1, close to 50% adults became flightless. Temporal expression of a temperature sensitive Dynamin mutant transgene (Shits) suggests that synaptic function in serotonergic neurons is required both during development and in adults. Depletion of IP3R in serotonergic neurons via RNAi did not affect flight. Interestingly, at all stages a partial requirement for synaptic activity in serotonergic neurons was observed. The status of serotonergic neurons was investigated in the central nervous system of larvae and adults expressing tetanus toxin. A small but significant reduction was observed in serotonergic cell number in adult second thoracic segments from flightless tetanus toxin expressing animals.
These studies show that loss of synaptic activity in serotonergic neurons causes a flight deficit. The temporal focus of the flight deficit is during pupal development and in adults. The cause of the flight deficit is likely to be loss of neurons and reduced synaptic function. Based on the partial phenotypes, serotonergic neurons appear to be modulatory, rather than an intrinsic part of the flight circuit.
Mate selection is critical to ensuring the survival of a species. In the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, genetic and anatomical studies have focused on mate recognition and courtship initiation for decades. This model system has proven to be highly amenable for the study of neural systems controlling the decision making process. However, much less is known about how courtship quality is regulated in a temporally dynamic manner in males and how a female assesses male performance as she makes her decision of whether to accept copulation. Here, we report that the courting male dynamically adjusts the relative proportions of the song components, pulse song or sine song, by assessing female locomotion. Male flies deficient for olfaction failed to perform the locomotion-dependent song modulation, indicating that olfactory cues provide essential information regarding proximity to the target female. Olfactory mutant males also showed lower copulation success when paired with wild-type females, suggesting that the male’s ability to temporally control song significantly affects female mating receptivity. These results depict the consecutive inter-sex behavioral decisions, in which a male smells the close proximity of a female as an indication of her increased receptivity and accordingly coordinates his song choice, which then enhances the probability of his successful copulation.
The nervous functions of an organism are primarily reflected in the behavior it is capable of. Measuring behavior quantitatively, at high-resolution and in an automated fashion provides valuable information about the underlying neural circuit computation. Accordingly, computer-vision applications for animal tracking are becoming a key complementary toolkit to genetic, molecular and electrophysiological characterization in systems neuroscience.
We present Sensory Orientation Software (SOS) to measure behavior and infer sensory experience correlates. SOS is a simple and versatile system to track body posture and motion of single animals in two-dimensional environments. In the presence of a sensory landscape, tracking the trajectory of the animal's sensors and its postural evolution provides a quantitative framework to study sensorimotor integration. To illustrate the utility of SOS, we examine the orientation behavior of fruit fly larvae in response to odor, temperature and light gradients. We show that SOS is suitable to carry out high-resolution behavioral tracking for a wide range of organisms including flatworms, fishes and mice.
Our work contributes to the growing repertoire of behavioral analysis tools for collecting rich and fine-grained data to draw and test hypothesis about the functioning of the nervous system. By providing open-access to our code and documenting the software design, we aim to encourage the adaptation of SOS by a wide community of non-specialists to their particular model organism and questions of interest.
Nitric oxide has been shown to regulate many biological systems including olfaction. In the moth olfactory system nitric oxide is produced in the antennal lobe in response to odor stimulation and has complex effects on the activity of both projection neurons and local interneurons. To examine the cell autonomous effects of nitric oxide on these cells, we used patch-clamp recording in conjunction with pharmacological manipulation of nitric oxide to test the hypothesis that nitric oxide differentially regulates the channel properties of these different antennal lobe neuron subsets. We found that nitric oxide caused increasing inward currents in a subset of projection neurons while the effects on local neurons were variable but consistent within identifiable morphological subtypes.
In the wild, larvae of several species of Drosophila develop in heterogeneous and rapidly changing environments sharing resources as food and space. In this scenario, sensory systems contribute to detect, localize and recognize congeners and heterospecifics, and provide information about the availability of food and chemical features of environments where animals live. We investigated the behavior of D. simulans and D. buzzatii larvae to chemicals emitted by conspecific and heterospecific larvae. Our goal was to understand the role of these substances in the selection of pupation sites in the two species that cohabit within decaying prickly pear fruits (Opuntia ficus-indica). In these breeding sites, larvae of D. simulans and D. buzzatii detect larvae of the other species changing their pupation site preferences. Larvae of the two species pupated in the part of the fruit containing no or few heterospecifics, and spent a longer time in/on spots marked by conspecifics rather than heterospecifics. In contrast, larvae of the two species reared in isolation from conspecifics pupated randomly over the substrate and spent a similar amount of time on spots marked by conspecifics and by heterospecifics. Our results indicate that early chemically-based experience with conspecific larvae is critical for the selection of the pupation sites in D. simulans and D. buzzatii, and that pupation site preferences of Drosophila larvae depend on species-specific chemical cues. These preferences can be modulate by the presence of larvae of the same or another species.
Drosophila melanogaster has proven to be a useful model system for the genetic analysis of ethanol-associated behaviors. However, past studies have focused on the response of the adult fly to large, and often sedating, doses of ethanol. The pharmacological effects of low and moderate quantities of ethanol have remained understudied. In this study, we tested the acute effects of low doses of ethanol (∼7 mM internal concentration) on Drosophila larvae. While ethanol did not affect locomotion or the response to an odorant, we observed that ethanol impaired associative olfactory learning when the heat shock unconditioned stimulus (US) intensity was low but not when the heat shock US intensity was high. We determined that the reduction in learning at low US intensity was not a result of ethanol anesthesia since ethanol-treated larvae responded to the heat shock in the same manner as untreated animals. Instead, low doses of ethanol likely impair the neuronal plasticity that underlies olfactory associative learning. This impairment in learning was reversible indicating that exposure to low doses of ethanol does not leave any long lasting behavioral or physiological effects.
Zebrafish larvae show a robust behavior called rheotaxis, whereby they use their lateral line system to orient upstream in the presence of a steady current. At 5 days post fertilization, rheotactic larvae can detect and initiate a swimming burst away from a continuous point-source of suction. Burst distance and velocity increase when fish initiate bursts closer to the suction source where flow velocity is higher. We suggest that either the magnitude of the burst reflects the initial flow stimulus, or fish may continually sense flow during the burst to determine where to stop. By removing specific neuromasts of the posterior lateral line along the body, we show how the location and number of flow sensors play a role in detecting a continuous suction source. We show that the burst response critically depends on the presence of neuromasts on the tail. Flow information relayed by neuromasts appears to be involved in the selection of appropriate behavioral responses. We hypothesize that caudally located neuromasts may be preferentially connected to fast swimming spinal motor networks while rostrally located neuromasts are connected to slow swimming motor networks at an early age.
Segregating objects from background, and determining which of many concurrent stimuli belong to the same object, remains one of the most challenging unsolved problems both in neuroscience and in technical applications. While this phenomenon has been investigated in depth in vision and audition it has hardly been investigated in olfaction. We found that for honeybees a 6-ms temporal difference in stimulus coherence is sufficient for odor-object segregation, showing that the temporal resolution of the olfactory system is much faster than previously thought.
An emerging idea in olfaction is that temporal coding of odor specificity can be intrinsic to the primary olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). As a first step towards understanding whether lobster ORNs are capable of generating odor-specific temporal activity and what mechanisms underlie any such heterogeneity in discharge pattern, we characterized different patterns of activity in lobster ORNs individually and ensemble using patch-clamp recording and calcium imaging. We demonstrate that lobster ORNs show tonic excitation, tonic inhibition, phaso-tonic excitation, and bursting, and that these patterns are faithfully reflected in the calcium signal. We then demonstrate that the various dynamic patterns of response are inherent in the cells, and that this inherent heterogeneity is largely determined by heterogeneity in the underlying intrinsic conductances.
The mushroom bodies of the insect brain play an important role in olfactory processing, associative learning and memory. The mushroom bodies show odor-specific spatial patterns of activity and are also influenced by visual stimuli.
Functional imaging was used to investigate changes in the in vivo responses of the mushroom body of the hawkmoth Manduca sexta during multimodal discrimination training. A visual and an odour stimulus were presented either together or individually. Initially, mushroom body activation patterns were identical to the odour stimulus and the multimodal stimulus. After training, however, the mushroom body response to the rewarded multimodal stimulus was significantly lower than the response to the unrewarded unimodal odour stimulus, indicating that the coding of the stimuli had changed as a result of training. The opposite pattern was seen when only the unimodal odour stimulus was rewarded. In this case, the mushroom body was more strongly activated by the multimodal stimuli after training. When no stimuli were rewarded, the mushroom body activity decreased for both the multimodal and unimodal odour stimuli. There was no measurable response to the unimodal visual stimulus in any of the experiments. These results can be explained using a connectionist model where the mushroom body is assumed to be excited by olfactory stimulus components, and suppressed by multimodal configurations.
Discrimination training with multimodal stimuli consisting of visual and odour cues leads to stimulus specific changes in the in vivo responses of the mushroom body of the hawkmoth.
Most animals rely on olfaction to find sexual partners, food or a habitat. The olfactory system faces the challenge of extracting meaningful information from a noisy odorous environment. In most moth species, males respond to sex pheromone emitted by females in an environment with abundant plant volatiles. Plant odours could either facilitate the localization of females (females calling on host plants), mask the female pheromone or they could be neutral without any effect on the pheromone. Here we studied how mixtures of a behaviourally-attractive floral odour, heptanal, and the sex pheromone are encoded at different levels of the olfactory pathway in males of the noctuid moth Agrotis ipsilon. In addition, we asked how interactions between the two odorants change as a function of the males' mating status. We investigated mixture detection in both the pheromone-specific and in the general odorant pathway. We used a) recordings from individual sensilla to study responses of olfactory receptor neurons, b) in vivo calcium imaging with a bath-applied dye to characterize the global input response in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobe and c) intracellular recordings of antennal lobe output neurons, projection neurons, in virgin and newly-mated males. Our results show that heptanal reduces pheromone sensitivity at the peripheral and central olfactory level independently of the mating status. Contrarily, heptanal-responding olfactory receptor neurons are not influenced by pheromone in a mixture, although some post-mating modulation occurs at the input of the sexually isomorphic ordinary glomeruli, where general odours are processed within the antennal lobe. The results are discussed in the context of mate localization.
The ability to respond to chemical stimuli is fundamental to the survival of motile organisms, but the strategies underlying odour tracking remain poorly understood. Here we show that chemotaxis in Drosophila melanogaster larvae is an active sampling process analogous to sniffing in vertebrates. Combining computer-vision algorithms with reconstructed olfactory environments, we establish that larvae orient in odour gradients through a sequential organization of stereotypical behaviours, including runs, stops, lateral head casts and directed turns. Negative gradients, integrated during runs, control the timing of turns. Positive gradients detected through high-amplitude head casts determine the direction of individual turns. By genetically manipulating the peripheral olfactory circuit, we examine how orientation adapts to losses and gains of function in olfactory input. Our findings suggest that larval chemotaxis represents an intermediate navigation strategy between the biased random walks of Escherichia Coli and the stereo-olfaction observed in rats and humans.
Drosophila melanogaster larvae demonstrate chemotaxis towards odours but their navigation mechanism is poorly understood. Using computer-vision tracking, Gomez-Marin et al. show that larvae ascend odour gradients using an active sampling strategy that is analogous to sniffing in vertebrates.
How do neural networks encode sensory information? Following sensory stimulation, neural coding is commonly assumed to be based on neurons changing their firing rate. In contrast, both theoretical works and experiments in several sensory systems showed that neurons could encode information as coordinated cell assemblies by adjusting their spike timing and without changing their firing rate. Nevertheless, in the olfactory system, there is little experimental evidence supporting such model.
To study these issues, we implanted tetrodes in the olfactory bulb of awake mice to record the odorant-evoked activity of mitral/tufted (M/T) cells. We showed that following odorant presentation, most M/T neurons do not significantly change their firing rate over a breathing cycle but rather respond to odorant stimulation by redistributing their firing activity within respiratory cycles. In addition, we showed that sensory information can be encoded by cell assemblies composed of such neurons, thus supporting the idea that coordinated populations of globally rate-invariant neurons could be efficiently used to convey information about the odorant identity. We showed that different coding schemes can convey high amount of odorant information for specific read-out time window. Finally we showed that the optimal readout time window corresponds to the duration of gamma oscillations cycles.
We propose that odorant can be encoded by population of cells that exhibit fine temporal tuning of spiking activity while displaying weak or no firing rate change. These cell assemblies may transfer sensory information in spiking packets sequence using the gamma oscillations as a clock. This would allow the system to reach a tradeoff between rapid and accurate odorant discrimination.
Odors are rarely composed of a single compound, but rather contain a large and complex variety of chemical components. Often, these mixtures are perceived as having unique qualities that can be quite different than the combination of their components. In many cases, a majority of the components of a mixture cannot be individually identified. This synthetic processing of odor information suggests that individual component representations of the mixture must interact somewhere along the olfactory pathway. The anatomical nature of sensory neuron input into segregated glomeruli with the bulb suggests that initial input of odor information into the bulb is analytic. However, a large network of interneurons within the olfactory bulb could allow for mixture interactions via mechanisms such as lateral inhibition. Currently in mammals, it is unclear if postsynaptic mitral/tufted cell glomerular mixture responses reflect the analytical mixture input, or provide the initial basis for synthetic processing with the olfactory system. To address this, olfactory bulb glomerular binary mixture representations were compared to representations of each component using transgenic mice expressing the calcium indicator G-CaMP2 in olfactory bulb mitral/tufted cells. Overall, dorsal surface mixture representations showed little mixture interaction and often appeared as a simple combination of the component representations. Based on this, it is concluded that dorsal surface glomerular mixture representations remain largely analytical with nearly all component information preserved.
In vivo, most neurons in the main olfactory bulb exhibit robust spontaneous activity. This paper tests the hypothesis that spontaneous activity in olfactory receptor neurons drives much of the spontaneous activity in mitral and tufted cells via excitatory synapses.
Single units were recorded in vivo from the main olfactory bulb of a rat before, during, and after application of lidocaine to the olfactory nerve. The effect of lidocaine on the conduction of action potentials from the olfactory epithelium to the olfactory bulb was assessed by electrically stimulating the olfactory nerve rostral to the application site and monitoring the field potential evoked in the bulb.
Lidocaine caused a significant decrease in the amplitude of the olfactory nerve evoked field potential that was recorded in the olfactory bulb. By contrast, the lidocaine block did not significantly alter the spontaneous activity of single units in the bulb, nor did it alter the field potential evoked by electrical stimulation of the lateral olfactory tract. Lidocaine block also did not change the temporal patters of action potential or their synchronization with respiration.
Spontaneous activity in neurons of the main olfactory bulb is not driven mainly by activity in olfactory receptor neurons despite the extensive convergence onto mitral and tufted cells. These results suggest that spontaneous activity of mitral and tufted is either an inherent property of these cells or is driven by centrifugal inputs to the bulb.
Bursting as well as tonic firing patterns have been described in various sensory systems. In the olfactory system, spontaneous bursts have been observed in neurons distributed across several synaptic levels, from the periphery, to the olfactory bulb (OB) and to the olfactory cortex. Several in vitro studies indicate that spontaneous firing patterns may be viewed as “fingerprints” of different types of neurons that exhibit distinct functions in the OB. It is still not known, however, if and how neuronal burstiness is correlated with the coding of natural olfactory stimuli. We thus conducted an in vivo study to probe this question in the OB equivalent structure of insects, the antennal lobe (AL) of the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta. We found that in the moth's AL, both projection (output) neurons (PNs) and local interneurons (LNs) are spontaneously active, but PNs tend to produce spike bursts while LNs fire more regularly. In addition, we found that the burstiness of PNs is correlated with the strength of their responses to odor stimulation – the more bursting the stronger their responses to odors. Moreover, the burstiness of PNs was also positively correlated with the spontaneous firing rate of these neurons, and pharmacological reduction of bursting resulted in a decrease of the neurons' responsiveness. These results suggest that neuronal burstiness reflects a physiological state of these neurons that is directly linked to their response characteristics.
Segmenting self- from allo-generated signals is crucial for active sensory processing. We report a dynamic filter used by South American pulse electric fish to distinguish active electro-sensory signals carried by their own electric discharges from other concomitant electrical stimuli (i.e. communication signals). The filter has a sensory component, consisting of an onset type central electro-sensory neuron, and a motor component, consisting of a change in the fish's discharge rate when allo-generated electrical events occur in temporal proximity to the fish's own discharge. We investigated the sensory component of the filter by in vitro mimicking synaptic inputs occurring during behavioral responses to allo-generated interfering signals. We found that active control of the discharge enhances self-generated over allo-generated responses by forcing allo-generated signals into a central refractory period. This hypothesis was confirmed by field potential recordings in freely discharging fish. Similar sensory-motor mechanisms may also contribute to signal segmentation in other sensory systems.
Insect repellents are prophylactic tools against a number of vector-borne
diseases. There is growing demand for repellents outperforming DEET in cost
and safety, but with the current technologies R&D of a new product takes
almost 10 years, with a prohibitive cost of $30 million dollar in
part due to the demand for large-scale synthesis of thousands of test
compounds of which only 1 may reach the market. R&D could be expedited
and cost dramatically reduced with a molecular/physiological target to
streamline putative repellents for final efficacy and toxicological
Using olfactory-based choice assay we show here that the fruit fly is
repelled by not only DEET, but also IR3535 and picaridin thus suggesting
they might have “generic repellent detector(s),” which may be of
practical applications in new repellent screenings. We performed single unit
recordings from all olfactory sensilla in the antennae and maxillary palps.
Although the ab3A neuron in the wild type flies responded to picaridin, it
was unresponsive to DEET and IR3535. By contrast, a neuron housed in the
palp basiconic sensilla pb1 responded to DEET, IR3535, and picaridin, with
apparent sensitivity higher than that of the DEET detectors in the
mosquitoes Culex quinquefasciatus and Aedes
aegypti. DmOr42a was transplanted from pb1 to the “empty
neuron” and showed to be sensitive to the three insect repellents.
For the first time we have demonstrated that the fruit fly avoids not only
DEET but also IR3535 and picaridin, and identified an olfactory receptor
neuron (ORN), which is sensitive to these three major insect repellents. We
have also identified the insect repellent-sensitive receptor, DmOr42a. This
generic detector fulfils the requirements for a simplified bioassay for
early screening of test insect repellents.
In insects, olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs), surrounded with auxiliary cells and protected by a cuticular wall, form small discrete sensory organs – the sensilla. The moth pheromone-sensitive sensillum is a well studied example of hair-like sensillum that is favorable to both experimental and modeling investigations. The model presented takes into account both the molecular processes of ORNs, i.e. the biochemical reactions and ionic currents giving rise to the receptor potential, and the cellular organization and compartmentalization of the organ represented by an electrical circuit. The number of isopotential compartments needed to describe the long dendrite bearing pheromone receptors was determined. The transduction parameters that must be modified when the number of compartments is increased were identified. This model reproduces the amplitude and time course of the experimentally recorded receptor potential. A first complete version of the model was analyzed in response to pheromone pulses of various strengths. It provided a quantitative description of the spatial and temporal evolution of the pheromone-dependent conductances, currents and potentials along the outer dendrite and served to determine the contribution of the various steps in the cascade to its global sensitivity. A second simplified version of the model, utilizing a single depolarizing conductance and leak conductances for repolarizing the ORN, was derived from the first version. It served to analyze the effects on the sensory properties of varying the electrical parameters and the size of the main sensillum parts. The consequences of the results obtained on the still uncertain mechanisms of olfactory transduction in moth ORNs – involvement or not of G-proteins, role of chloride and potassium currents – are discussed as well as the optimality of the sensillum organization, the dependence of biochemical parameters on the neuron spatial extension and the respective contributions of the biochemical and electrical parameters to the overall neuron response.
Progress in the functional studies of human olfactory receptors has been largely hampered by the lack of a reliable experimental model system. Although transgenic approaches in mice could characterize the function of individual olfactory receptors, the presence of over 300 functional genes in the human genome becomes a daunting task. Thus, the characterization of individuals with a genetic susceptibility to altered olfaction coupled with the absence of particular olfactory receptor genes will allow phenotype/genotype correlations and vindicate the function of specific olfactory receptors with their cognate ligands. We characterized a 118 kb β-globin deletion and found that its 3′ end breakpoint extends to the neighboring olfactory receptor region downstream of the β-globin gene cluster. This deletion encompasses six contiguous olfactory receptor genes (OR51V1, OR52Z1, OR51A1P, OR52A1, OR52A5, and OR52A4) all of which are expressed in the brain. Topology analysis of the encoded proteins from these olfactory receptor genes revealed that OR52Z1, OR52A1, OR52A5, and OR52A4 are predicted to be functional receptors as they display integral characteristics of G-proteins coupled receptors. Individuals homozygous for the 118 kb β-globin deletion are afflicted with β-thalassemia due to a homozygous deletion of the β-globin gene and have no alleles for the above mentioned olfactory receptors genes. This is the first example of a homozygous deletion of olfactory receptor genes in human. Although altered olfaction remains to be ascertained in these individuals, such a study can be carried out in β-thalassemia patients from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines where this mutation is common. Furthermore, OR52A1 contains a γ-globin enhancer, which was previously shown to confer continuous expression of the fetal γ-globin genes. Thus, the hypothesis that β-thalassemia individuals, who are homozygous for the 118 kb deletion, may also have an exacerbation of their anemia due to the deletion of two copies of the γ-globin enhancer element is worthy of consideration.
Instantaneous object discrimination and categorization are fundamental cognitive capacities performed with the guidance of visual attention. Visual attention enables selection of a salient object within a limited area of the visual field; we referred to as “field of attention” (FA). Though there is some evidence concerning the spatial extent of object recognition, the following questions still remain unknown: (a) how large is the FA for rapid object categorization, (b) how accuracy of attention is distributed over the FA, and (c) how fast complex objects can be categorized when presented against backgrounds formed by natural scenes.
To answer these questions, we used a visual perceptual task in which subjects were asked to focus their attention on a point while being required to categorize briefly flashed (20 ms) photographs of natural scenes by indicating whether or not these contained an animal. By measuring the accuracy of categorization at different eccentricities from the fixation point, we were able to determine the spatial extent and the distribution of accuracy over the FA, as well as the speed of categorizing objects using stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). Our results revealed that subjects are able to rapidly categorize complex natural images within about 0.1 s without eye movement, and showed that the FA for instantaneous image categorization covers a visual field extending 20°×24°, and accuracy was highest (>90%) at the center of FA and declined with increasing eccentricity.
In conclusion, human beings are able to categorize complex natural images at a glance over a large extent of the visual field without eye movement.
Can objects or events ever capture one's attention in a purely stimulus-driven manner? A recent review of the literature set out the criteria required to find stimulus-driven attentional capture independent of goal-directed influences, and concluded that no published study has satisfied that criteria. Here visual search experiments assessed whether an irrelevantly large object can capture attention. Capture of attention by this static visual feature was found. The results suggest that a large object can indeed capture attention in a stimulus-driven manner and independent of displaywide features of the task that might encourage a goal-directed bias for large items. It is concluded that these results are either consistent with the stimulus-driven criteria published previously or alternatively consistent with a flexible, goal-directed mechanism of saliency detection.