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J Comp Physiol A. 1988 Aug;163(4):445-58.

An in vitro physiological preparation of a vertebrate communicatory behavior: chirping in the weakly electric fish, Apteronotus.

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Department of Neurosciences and Neurobiology Unit, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California 92093.


1. An in vitro preparation of the medullary pacemaker nucleus of the weakly electric fish Apteronotus leptorhynchus was studied which fires regularly and synchronously at the fish's characteristic frequency of electric organ discharge (EOD). Upon bipolar stimulation of tissue regions through which pass prepacemaker nucleus afferents to the pacemaker, a brief, transient increase in discharge frequency ensued at short-latency (Fig. 1A). 2. Intracellular recordings revealed that the acceleration was accompanied by a depolarization and decline in action potential amplitude. The magnitude of these changes was both phase- (Fig. 5) and amplitude-dependent, with the latter showing an evident threshold effect (Figs. 4 and 12). The response was reversibly blocked by high Mg2+ saline (Fig. 1B), and the magnitude of the accelerations showed marked facilitation during repeated stimulation (Fig. 6). 3. Optical and histological identification allowed characteristically different responses in the intracellular recordings to be attributed to the two cell types of the pacemaker nucleus: pacemaker and relay cells (Figs. 2 and 3). Similar responses have been observed at these respective recording locations in the intact animal during chirping (Dye and Heiligenberg 1987). 4. Simultaneous recordings of pairs of cells revealed a transient change in the phase relationship of firing during the accelerations which was most marked between relay and pacemaker cells (Fig. 7). These dual recordings also revealed that the relay cells depolarize and accelerate more than pacemaker cells (Fig. 10), suggesting that they are the principal effectors of this behavioral modulation. 5. Trains of pulses additionally elicited a long-lasting frequency elevation which occurred at a slightly higher threshold than the brief accelerations. This slow frequency change relaxed back to baseline following a biexponential time course which closely resembled that of a distinct behavior seen in intact fish, termed 'yodeling' (Dye 1987).

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