Excitatory amino acid receptors at a feedback pathway in the electrosensory system: implications for the searchlight hypothesis

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Oct;78(4):1869-81. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.78.4.1869.


The electrosensory lateral line lobe (ELL) of the South American gymnotiform fish Apteronotus leptorhynchus has a laminar structure: electroreceptor afferents terminate ventrally whereas feedback input distributes to a superficial molecular layer containing the dendrites of the ELL principle (pyramidal) cells. There are two feedback pathways: a direct feedback projection that enters the ELL via a myelinated tract (stratum fibrosum, StF) and terminates in the ventral molecular layer (VML) and an indirect projection that enters as parallel fibers and terminates in the dorsal molecular layer. It has been proposed that the direct feedback pathway serves as a "searchlight" mechanism. This study characterizes StF synaptic transmission to determine whether the physiology of the direct feedback projection is consistent with this hypothesis. We used field and intracellular recordings from the ELL to investigate synaptic transmission of the StF in an in vitro slice preparation. Stimulation of the StF produced field potentials with a maximal negativity confined to a narrow band of tissue dorsal to the StF. Current source density analysis revealed two current sinks: an early sink within the StF and a later sink that corresponded to the anatomically defined VML. Field potential recordings from VML demonstrated that stimulation of the StF evoked an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) that peaked at a latency of 4-7 ms with a slow decay ( approximately 50 ms) to baseline. Intracellular recordings from pyramidal cells revealed that StF-evoked EPSPs consisted of at least two components: a fast gap junction mediated EPSP (peak 1.2-1.8 ms) and a chemical synaptic potential (peak 4-7 ms) with a slow decay phase ( approximately 50 ms). The amplitudes of the peak and decay phases of the chemical EPSP were increased by depolarizing current injection. Pharmacological studies demonstrated that the chemical EPSP was mainly due to ionotropic glutamate receptors with bothN-methyl--aspartate (NMDA) and non-NMDA components. NMDA receptors contributed substantially to both the early and late phase of the EPSP, whereas non-NMDA receptors contributed mainly to the early phase. Stimulation of the StF at physiological rates (100-200 Hz, 100 ms) produced an augmenting depolarization of the membrane potential of pyramidal cells. Temporal summation and a voltage-dependent enhancement of later EPSPs in the stimulus train permitted the compound EPSP to reach spike threshold. The nonlinear behavior of StF synaptic potentials is appropriate for the putative role of the direct feedback pathway as part of a searchlight mechanism allowing these fish to increase the electrodetectability of scanned objects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feedback / physiology*
  • Fishes
  • N-Methylaspartate / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Receptors, Amino Acid / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Receptors, Amino Acid
  • N-Methylaspartate