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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Nov 26;110(48):19609-14. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1314008110. Epub 2013 Nov 11.

Serotonin selectively enhances perception and sensory neural responses to stimuli generated by same-sex conspecifics.

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Departments of Physiology and Physics, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada H3G 1Y6.


Centrifugal serotonergic fibers innervating sensory brain areas are seen ubiquitously across systems and species but their function remains unclear. Here we examined the functional role of serotonergic innervation onto electrosensory neurons in weakly electric fish by eliciting endogenous release through electrical stimulation as well as exogenous focal application of serotonin in the vicinity of the cell being recorded from. Both approaches showed that the function of serotonergic input onto electrosensory pyramidal neurons is to render them more excitable by reducing the spike afterhyperpolarization amplitude and thereby promoting burst firing. Further, serotonergic input selectively improved neuronal responses to stimuli that occur during interactions between same-sex conspecifics but not to stimuli associated with either prey or that occur during interactions between opposite-sex conspecifics. Finally, we tested whether serotonin-mediated enhanced pyramidal neuron responses to stimuli associated with same-sex conspecifics actually increase perception by the animal. Our behavioral experiments show that exogenous injection and endogenous release of serotonin both increase the magnitude of behavioral responses to stimuli associated with same-sex conspecifics as well as simultaneously decrease aggressive behaviors. Thus, our data indicate that the serotonergic system inhibits aggressive behavior toward same-sex conspecifics, while at the same time increasing perception of stimuli associated with these individuals. This function is likely to be conserved across systems and species.


excitability; neural coding; neuroethology; neuromodulation

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