Time coding in the midbrain of mormyrid electric fish. II. Stimulus selectivity in the nucleus exterolateralis pars posterior

J Comp Physiol A. 1998 Feb;182(2):131-43. doi: 10.1007/s003590050164.


The anterior and posterior exterolateral nuclei (ELa and ELp) of the mormyrid midbrain are thought to play a critical role in the temporal analysis of the electric discharge waveforms of other individuals. The peripheral electroreceptors receiving electric organ discharges (EODs) of other fish project through the brainstem to ELa via a rapid conducting pathway. EODs, composed of brief, but stereotyped waveforms are encoded as a temporal pattern of spikes. From previous work, we know that phase locking is precise in ELa. Here it is shown that evoked potentials recorded from ELp show a similar high degree of phase locking, although the evoked potentials last much longer. Single-unit recordings in ELp reveal two distinct populations of neurons in ELp: type I cells are responsive to voltage step functions, and not tuned for stimulus duration; type II cells are tuned to a specific range of stimulus durations. Type II cells are less responsive than type I cells, tend to respond with bursts of action potentials rather than with single spikes, have a longer latency, show weaker time locking to stimuli, and are more sensitive to stimulus polarity and amplitude. The stimulus selectivity of type II cells may arise from convergence of type I cell inputs. Despite the loss of rapid conduction between ELa and ELp, analysis of temporal features of waveforms evidently continues in ELp, perhaps through a system of labeled lines.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Electric Organ / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • GABA Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Mesencephalon / anatomy & histology
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Picrotoxin / pharmacology
  • Time Perception / physiology*


  • GABA Antagonists
  • Picrotoxin