Modeling signal and background components of electrosensory scenes

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2005 Apr;191(4):331-45. doi: 10.1007/s00359-004-0587-3. Epub 2004 Dec 17.


Weakly electric fish are able to detect and localize prey based on microvolt-level perturbations in the fish's self-generated electric field. In natural environments, weak prey-related signals are embedded in much stronger electrosensory background noise. To better characterize the signal and background components associated with natural electrolocation tasks, we recorded transdermal voltage modulations in restrained Apteronotus albifrons in response to moving spheres, tail bends, and large nonconducting boundaries. Spherical objects give rise to ipsilateral images with center-surround structure and contralateral images that are weak and diffuse. Tail bends and laterally placed nonconducting boundaries induce relatively strong ipsilateral and contralateral modulations of opposite polarity. We present a computational model of electric field generation and electrosensory image formation that is able to reproduce the key features of these empirically measured signal and background components in a unified framework. The model comprises an array of point sources and sinks distributed along the midline of the fish, which can conform to arbitrary body bends. The model is computationally fast and can be used to estimate the spatiotemporal pattern of activation across the entire electroreceptor array of the fish during natural behaviors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Gymnotiformes / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*