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Brain Behav Evol. 2018;91(1):31-44. doi: 10.1159/000487122. Epub 2018 Mar 29.

Brain Activation Patterns in Response to Conspecific and Heterospecific Social Acoustic Signals in Female Plainfin Midshipman Fish, Porichthys notatus.

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Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Department of Biology, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, Brooklyn, New York, USA.
Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, New York, USA.
Program in Neuroscience, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, New York, USA.
Program in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, New York, USA.
Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center, Seattle, Washington, USA.


While the peripheral auditory system of fish has been well studied, less is known about how the fish's brain and central auditory system process complex social acoustic signals. The plainfin midshipman fish, Porichthys notatus, has become a good species for investigating the neural basis of acoustic communication because the production and reception of acoustic signals is paramount for this species' reproductive success. Nesting males produce long-duration advertisement calls that females detect and localize among the noise in the intertidal zone to successfully find mates and spawn. How female midshipman are able to discriminate male advertisement calls from environmental noise and other acoustic stimuli is unknown. Using the immediate early gene product cFos as a marker for neural activity, we quantified neural activation of the ascending auditory pathway in female midshipman exposed to conspecific advertisement calls, heterospecific white seabass calls, or ambient environment noise. We hypothesized that auditory hindbrain nuclei would be activated by general acoustic stimuli (ambient noise and other biotic acoustic stimuli) whereas auditory neurons in the midbrain and forebrain would be selectively activated by conspecific advertisement calls. We show that neural activation in two regions of the auditory hindbrain, i.e., the rostral intermediate division of the descending octaval nucleus and the ventral division of the secondary octaval nucleus, did not differ via cFos immunoreactive (cFos-ir) activity when exposed to different acoustic stimuli. In contrast, female midshipman exposed to conspecific advertisement calls showed greater cFos-ir in the nucleus centralis of the midbrain torus semicircularis compared to fish exposed only to ambient noise. No difference in cFos-ir was observed in the torus semicircularis of animals exposed to conspecific versus heterospecific calls. However, cFos-ir was greater in two forebrain structures that receive auditory input, i.e., the central posterior nucleus of the thalamus and the anterior tuberal hypothalamus, when exposed to conspecific calls versus either ambient noise or heterospecific calls. Our results suggest that higher-order neurons in the female midshipman midbrain torus semicircularis, thalamic central posterior nucleus, and hypothalamic anterior tuberal nucleus may be necessary for the discrimination of complex social acoustic signals. Furthermore, neurons in the central posterior and anterior tuberal nuclei are differentially activated by exposure to conspecific versus other acoustic stimuli.


Acoustic communication; Animal communication; Auditory pathways; Fish; Teleost

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