Presynaptic Inhibition Selectively Gates Auditory Transmission to the Brainstem Startle Circuit

Curr Biol. 2018 Aug 20;28(16):2527-2535.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.06.020. Epub 2018 Aug 2.


Filtering mechanisms prevent a continuous stream of sensory information from swamping perception, leading to diminished focal attention and cognitive processing. Mechanisms for sensory gating are commonly studied using prepulse inhibition, a paradigm that measures the regulated transmission of auditory information to the startle circuit; however, the underlying neuronal pathways are unresolved. Using large-scale calcium imaging, optogenetics, and laser ablations, we reveal a cluster of 30 morphologically identified neurons in zebrafish that suppress the transmission of auditory signals during prepulse inhibition. These neurons project to a key sensorimotor interface in the startle circuit-the termination zone of auditory afferents on the dendrite of a startle command neuron. Direct measurement of auditory nerve neurotransmitter release revealed selective presynaptic inhibition of sensory transmission to the startle circuit, sparing signaling to other brain regions. Our results provide the first cellular resolution circuit for prepulse inhibition in a vertebrate, revealing a central role for presynaptic gating of sensory information to a brainstem motor circuit.

Keywords: B3 recombinase; Gsx1; Mauthner cell; iGluSnFR; large-scale calcium imaging; prepulse inhibition; presynaptic inhibition; sensory gating; startle reflex; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Laser Therapy
  • Neurons
  • Optogenetics
  • Prepulse Inhibition / physiology*
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology
  • Sensory Gating / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Zebrafish / physiology*


  • Calcium