Sound-generating (sonic) motor system in a teleost fish (Porichthys notatus): sexual polymorphisms and general synaptology of sonic motor nucleus

J Comp Neurol. 1989 Aug 8;286(2):154-69. doi: 10.1002/cne.902860203.


The sonic motor nucleus of the plainfin midshipman, Porichthys notatus, is a midline nucleus located at the junction of the caudal medulla and rostral spinal cord. Its motoneurons innervate sonic "drumming" muscles that are attached to the lateral walls of the swimbladder. There are two classes of sexually mature males referred to as Type I and Type II. The Type I males are larger and generate sounds during the breeding season. The Type II males are smaller and, like adult females, have not yet been shown to generate sounds. This study examined possible sex differences in the size of sonic motoneurons, and the type and distribution of their afferent terminal boutons. The average soma diameter of motoneurons of Type I males is about 50% larger than that of Type II males and females. There is also a small but significant difference in soma diameter between Type II males and females; they are smaller in the former class. There were no sex differences in the presence or distribution of different classes of axosomatic and axodendritic terminal boutons, which included: (1) active zones with either clear, round, or pleomorphic vesicles, (2) active zones with both clear, round vesicles, and larger dense core vesicles, (3) "mixed synapses" with gap junctions and active zones usually associated with pleomorphic vesicles. The results are discussed within the context of sexual differentiation of vertebrate motor systems and the functional organization of the sonic motor system in fishes. Sex differences in soma diameter correlate with a number of sex differences in the gross and ultrastructural features that distinguish the sonic muscles of Type I males from those of Type II males and females, which are similar to each other. The absence of qualitative sex differences in synaptic morphology suggest that the central neuronal circuitry of the sonic motor system is similar among all three adult morphs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Male
  • Medulla Oblongata / physiology
  • Medulla Oblongata / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sound*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / ultrastructure
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*