Neural substrates for species recognition in the time-coding electrosensory pathway of mormyrid electric fish

J Neurosci. 1998 Feb 1;18(3):1171-85. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.18-03-01171.1998.


Mormyrid electric fish have species- and sex-typical electric organ discharges (EODs). One class of tuberous electroreceptors, the knollenorgans, plays a critical role in electric communication; one function is species recognition of EOD waveforms. In this paper, we describe cell types in the knollenorgan central pathway, which appear responsible for analysis of the temporal patterns of spikes encoded by the knollenorgans in response to EOD stimuli. Secondary sensory neurons in the nucleus of the electrosensory lateral line lobe (NELL) act as relays of peripheral responses. They fire a single phase-locked spike to an outside positive-going voltage step. Axons from the NELL project to the toral nucleus exterolateralis pars anterior (ELa). Immediately after they enter the ELa, they send collaterals to terminate on one to three ELa large cells and then continue in a lengthy neuronal pathway that traverses the ELa several times. After a path length of up to 5 mm, the NELL axon terminates on as many as 70 ELa small cells. Thus the large cells appear to be excited first, followed by the small cells, with the intervening length of the axon serving as a delay line. The large cells also respond with phase-locked spikes to voltage steps. Large cell axons extend for approximately 1 mm and terminate on several small cells within the ELa. The terminals are known to be GABAergic inputs and are presumed inhibitory. We propose that small cells receive direct inhibition from large cells and delayed excitation from NELL axons. The small cells may act as anti-co-incidence detectors to analyze the temporal structure of the EOD waveform.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / cytology
  • Cell Size
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Electric Organ / cytology*
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors