Vocal-acoustic circuitry and descending vocal pathways in teleost fish: convergence with terrestrial vertebrates reveals conserved traits

J Comp Neurol. 2002 Jul 1;448(3):298-322. doi: 10.1002/cne.10258.


Vocal behavior is multifaceted and requires that vocal-motor patterning be integrated at multiple brain levels with auditory, neuroendocrine, and other social behavior processes (e.g., courtship and aggression). We now provide anatomical evidence for an extensive vocal network in teleost fishes (Batrachoididae: Porichthys notatus; Opsanus beta) that is strongly integrated with neuroendocrine and auditory pathways and that exhibits striking similarities to the vocal-acoustic circuitry known for mammals. Biotin compound injections into neurophysiologically identified vocal regions of the forebrain (preoptic area and anterior hypothalamus) and of the midbrain (periaqueductal gray and paralemniscal tegmentum) reveal extensive connectivity within and between these regions, as well as reciprocal relationships with the auditory thalamus and/or auditory midbrain (torus semicircularis). Thus, specific components of the basal forebrain and midbrain are here designated as the forebrain vocal-acoustic complex (fVAC) and midbrain vocal-acoustic complex (mVAC), respectively. Biotin injections into the mVAC and a previously identified hindbrain vocal pattern generator likewise provide anatomical evidence for a distributed network of descending projections to the vocal pacemaker-motoneuron circuitry. Together, the present experiments establish a vocal-auditory-neuroendocrine network in teleost fish that links the forebrain and midbrain to the hindbrain vocal pattern generator (i.e., fVAC --> mVAC --> pattern generator) and provides an anatomical framework for the previously identified neuropeptide modulation of vocal activity elicited from the forebrain and midbrain, which contributes to the expression of sex- and male morph-specific behavior. We conclude with a broad comparison of these findings with those for other vertebrate taxa and suggest that the present findings provide novel insights into the structure of conserved behavioral regulatory circuits that have led to evolutionary convergence in vocal-acoustic systems.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / cytology*
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Batrachoidiformes / anatomy & histology*
  • Batrachoidiformes / physiology
  • Biological Clocks / physiology
  • Biotin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Dextrans
  • Diencephalon / cytology
  • Diencephalon / physiology
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Mesencephalon / physiology
  • Nerve Net / cytology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / cytology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Rhombencephalon / cytology
  • Rhombencephalon / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Telencephalon / cytology
  • Telencephalon / physiology
  • Thalamus / cytology
  • Thalamus / physiology
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Dextrans
  • biotinylated dextran amine
  • neurobiotin
  • Biotin