How do sensory systems disambiguate events in the external world from signals generated by the animal's own motor actions? One strategy is to use an "efference copy" of the motor command to inhibit the sensory input caused by active behavior . But does inhibition of self-generated inputs also block transmission of external stimuli? We investigated this question in the lateral line, a sensory system that allows fish and amphibians to detect water currents and that contributes to behaviors such as rheotaxis  and predator avoidance [3, 4]. This mechanical sense begins in hair cells grouped into neuromasts dotted along the animal's body . Each neuromast contains two populations of hair cells, activated by deflection in either the anterior or posterior direction , as well as efferent fibers that are active during motor behavior to suppress afferents projecting to the brain [7-12]. To test how far the efference copy signal modulates responses to external stimuli, we imaged neural and synaptic activity in larval zebrafish during fictive swimming. We find that efferents transmit a precise copy of the motor signal and a single spike in the motor nerve can be associated with ∼50% inhibition of glutamate release. The efference copy signal acted with high selectivity on hair cells polarized to be activated by posterior deflections, as would occur during forward motion. During swimming, therefore, "push-pull" encoding of stimulus direction by afferents of opposite polarity is disrupted while still allowing a subset of hair cells to detect stimuli originating in the external world.
Keywords: corollary discharge; efference copy; hair cell; lateral line; zebrafish.
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