Distinct mechanisms of modulation in a neuronal oscillator generate different social signals in the electric fish Hypopomus

J Comp Physiol A. 1989 Oct;165(6):731-41. doi: 10.1007/BF00610872.


The medullary pacemaker nucleus of the gymnotiform electric fish, Hypopomus, is a relatively simple neuronal oscillator which contains pacemaker cells and relay cells. The pacemaker cells generate a regular discharge cycle and drive the relay cells which trigger pulse-like electric organ discharges (EODs). The diencephalic prepacemaker nucleus (PPN) projects to the pacemaker nucleus and modulates its activity to generate a variety of specific discharge patterns which serve as communicatory signals (Figs. 2 and 3). While inducing such signals by microiontophoresis of L-glutamate to the region of the PPN (Fig. 4) of curarized animals, we monitored the activity of neurons in the pacemaker nucleus intracellularly. We found that pacemaker cells and relay cells were affected differently in a manner specific to the type of EOD modulation (Figs. 5-10). The normal sequence of pacemaker cell and relay cell firing was maintained during gradual rises and falls in discharge rate. Both types of cells ceased to fire during interruptions following a decline in discharge rate. During sudden interruptions, however, relay cells were steadily depolarized, while pacemaker cells continued to fire regularly. Short and rapid barrages of EODs, called "chirps", were generated through direct and synchronous activation of the relay cells whose action potentials invaded pacemaker cells antidromically and interfered with their otherwise regular firing pattern.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*