Fast drum strokes: novel and convergent features of sonic muscle ultrastructure, innervation, and motor neuron organization in the Pyramid Butterflyfish (Hemitaurichthys polylepis)

J Morphol. 2013 Apr;274(4):377-94. doi: 10.1002/jmor.20096. Epub 2012 Nov 9.


Sound production that is mediated by intrinsic or extrinsic swim bladder musculature has evolved multiple times in teleost fishes. Sonic muscles must contract rapidly and synchronously to compress the gas-filled bladder with sufficient velocity to produce sound. Muscle modifications that may promote rapid contraction include small fiber diameter, elaborate sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR), triads at the A-I boundary, and cores of sarcoplasm. The diversity of innervation patterns indicate that sonic muscles have independently evolved from different trunk muscle precursors. The analysis of sonic motor pathways in distantly related fishes is required to determine the relationships between sonic muscle evolution and function in acoustic signaling. We examined the ultrastructure of sonic and adjacent hypaxial muscle fibers and the distribution of sonic motor neurons in the coral reef Pyramid Butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae: Hemitaurichthys polylepis) that produces sound by contraction of extrinsic sonic muscles near the anterior swim bladder. Relative to adjacent hypaxial fibers, sonic muscle fibers were sparsely arranged among the endomysium, smaller in cross-section, had longer sarcomeres, a more elaborate SR, wider t-tubules, and more radially arranged myofibrils. Both sonic and non-sonic muscle fibers possessed triads at the Z-line, lacked sarcoplasmic cores, and had mitochondria among the myofibrils and concentrated within the peripheral sarcoplasm. Sonic muscles of this derived eutelost possess features convergent with other distant vocal taxa (other euteleosts and non-euteleosts): small fiber diameter, a well-developed SR, and radial myofibrils. In contrast with some sonic fishes, however, Pyramid Butterflyfish sonic muscles lack sarcoplasmic cores and A-I triads. Retrograde nerve label experiments show that sonic muscle is innervated by central and ventrolateral motor neurons associated with spinal nerves 1-3. This restricted distribution of sonic motor neurons in the spinal cord differs from many euteleosts and likely reflects the embryological origin of sonic muscles from hypaxial trunk precursors rather than occipital somites.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Sacs / innervation
  • Air Sacs / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Coral Reefs
  • Efferent Pathways / ultrastructure
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure*
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / ultrastructure
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / ultrastructure*
  • Perciformes / anatomy & histology
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Sarcomeres / ultrastructure
  • Spinal Nerves / ultrastructure
  • Vocalization, Animal*