Central mechanisms of temporal analysis in the knollenorgan pathway of mormyrid electric fish

J Exp Biol. 1999 May;202(# (Pt 10)):1311-8. doi: 10.1242/jeb.202.10.1311.


Mormyrid electric fish communicate using pulse-type electric organ discharges (EODs). The fine temporal structure of the waveforms of EODs varies widely throughout the 200 or more species of mormyrids. These signals carry information about the species, the sex and even the individual identity of the signaller. Behavioral experiments have shown that some species of fish are capable of using this information. Of the four known types of electroreceptors in mormyrid fish, the knollenorgan electroreceptor is the one most likely to be involved in the detection of conspecific EOD signals. Here, we review some recent advances in understanding how the central knollenorgan pathway might be analyzing the temporal structure of the EOD waveform. Fine temporal analysis appears to take place in the nucleus exterolateralis pars anterior (ELa), where tightly phase-locked inputs from the hindbrain drive a direct, excitatory input through a long axonal delay line and also drive an indirect, inhibitory input with negligible delay through the ELa large cell. These two inputs converge on ELa small cells, where they are hypothesized to interact in a 'delay-line/blanking' model. This initial temporal analysis is further refined in the nucleus exterolateralis pars posterior, where units tuned to ranges of pulse durations have been identified physiologically.