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J Exp Biol. 2013 Jul 1;216(Pt 13):2365-79. doi: 10.1242/jeb.082289.

Multiplexed temporal coding of electric communication signals in mormyrid fishes.

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Department of Biology, Washington University in St Louis, St Louis, MO, USA.


The coding of stimulus information into patterns of spike times occurs widely in sensory systems. Determining how temporally coded information is decoded by central neurons is essential to understanding how brains process sensory stimuli. Mormyrid weakly electric fishes are experts at time coding, making them an exemplary organism for addressing this question. Mormyrids generate brief, stereotyped electric pulses. Pulse waveform carries information about sender identity, and it is encoded into submillisecond-to-millisecond differences in spike timing between receptors. Mormyrids vary the time between pulses to communicate behavioral state, and these intervals are encoded into the sequence of interspike intervals within receptors. Thus, the responses of peripheral electroreceptors establish a temporally multiplexed code for communication signals, one consisting of spike timing differences between receptors and a second consisting of interspike intervals within receptors. These signals are processed in a dedicated sensory pathway, and recent studies have shed light on the mechanisms by which central circuits can extract behaviorally relevant information from multiplexed temporal codes. Evolutionary change in the anatomy of this pathway is related to differences in electrosensory perception, which appears to have influenced the diversification of electric signals and species. However, it remains unknown how this evolutionary change relates to differences in sensory coding schemes, neuronal circuitry and central sensory processing. The mormyrid electric communication pathway is a powerful model for integrating mechanistic studies of temporal coding with evolutionary studies of correlated differences in brain and behavior to investigate neural mechanisms for processing temporal codes.


anti-coincidence detection; coincidence detection; delay line; duration tuning; electric organ discharge; interval tuning; sub-millisecond timing differences; temporal filter; weakly electric fish

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