Temporal processing and context dependency in response to mechanosensation.
A quantitative understanding of how sensory signals are transformed into motor outputs places useful constraints on brain function and helps to reveal the brain's underlying computations. We investigate how the nematode responds to time-varying mechanosensory signals using a high-throughput optogenetic assay and automated behavior quantification. We find that the behavioral response is tuned to temporal properties of mechanosensory signals, such as their integral and derivative, that extend over many seconds. Mechanosensory signals, even in the same neurons, can be tailored to elicit different behavioral responses. Moreover, we find that the animal's response also depends on its behavioral context. Most dramatically, the animal ignores all tested mechanosensory stimuli during turns. Finally, we present a linear-nonlinear model that predicts the animal's behavioral response to stimulus.