Functional evidence for visuospatial coding in the Mauthner neuron

Brain Behav Evol. 2006;67(4):188-202. doi: 10.1159/000091652. Epub 2006 Feb 21.


When startled by sound, goldfish make large turns away from a rostral stimulus and small responses away from caudal stimuli, suggesting that rostral startling stimuli recruit larger pools of reticulospinal neurons in the Brainstem Escape Network (BEN) than do caudal stimuli. Consistent with this idea, the zebrafish Mauthner (M-) cell fires when the fish is startled by tail-directed stimuli, but the M-cell homologues (MiD2cm and MiD3cm) are also recruited when the fish is startled by displacing the head. Because vision is known to modulate M-cell activity, a nonstartling, modulatory sensory 'signal' conveyed to the reticular formation may be stronger if the visual sensory image is from a rostral vs. caudal spatial location and could account for a differential neuron pool recruitment and response magnitude. In this study, electrophysiological recordings from cichlid Mauthner neurons showed that visual stimulation of the caudal retina (by a rostral cue) generates a depolarization that is about 1.5 times the amplitude of that generated by stimulation of the rostral retina (by a caudal cue). In behavioral testing, where fish were stimulated visually for 30 ms and then startled by sound, fish startled in the presence of a rostral visual stimulus performed larger amplitude and faster turns than when startled in the presence of a caudal visual stimulus. Thus, M-cell potentials might reflect the strength of visual input to the BEN in general. For a particular visual spatial location, the relative strength of descending visual input appears to contribute to a recruitment of a reticulospinal neuron population that generates a turn magnitude appropriate to the visual cue, and suggests that a retinotopic representation is preserved in the BEN.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Goldfish
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*