Temporal constraints on visually directed C-start responses: behavioral and physiological correlates

Brain Behav Evol. 2003;61(3):148-58. doi: 10.1159/000069751.


To study the modulatory influences of visual information on Mauthner (M-) initiated C-start responses, short interval visual stimuli were presented to individual cichlid fish prior to being startled with a sound pulse. Because the axon of each Mauthner neuron activates trunk musculature contralateral to the soma, the initial direction of an ensuing startle response provides a behavioral measure of which cell has been driven closer to threshold by visual cues at the time the sound pulse causes one cell to fire. When an LED was illuminated on one side of the fish for 10 ms prior to a startling sound pulse, cichlids reliably turned toward the visual cue. At durations of 15 and 20 ms, fish turned away from the same stimulus. Thus, behavioral evidence suggests that the M-cell contralateral to a visual stimulus appears to be excited first but visual excitation of the M-cell ipsilateral to the visual stimulus follows and predominates. Consistent with the behavioral results, visually evoked excitatory potentials recorded intracellularly in the cichlid M-cells were complex, with initial PSPs showing latencies of about 11.6 ms from contralateral eye stimulation and 15.5 ms from stimulating the ipsilateral eye. PSP latencies in goldfish were longer and more similar for stimuli to the two eyes (about 22 ms). For contrast, sound-evoked PSPs begin within 2 ms. The relative long latencies for visually regulating M-cell function suggest that vision is most adaptive for biasing response direction prior to rather than during a predator's attack.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Cues
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Goldfish / physiology*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*
  • Sound Localization
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology