Plasticity of the electric organ discharge waveform of the electric fish Brachyhypopomus pinnicaudatus. I. Quantification of day-night changes

J Comp Physiol A. 1998 Dec;183(6):759-68. doi: 10.1007/s003590050299.


The electric organ discharge of the gymnotiform fish Brachyhypopomus pinnicaudatus is a biphasic waveform. The female's electric organ discharge is nearly symmetric but males produce a longer second phase than first phase. In this study, infrared-sensitive video cameras monitored the position of unrestrained fish, facilitating precise measurement of electric organ discharge duration and amplitude every 2 h for 24 h. Males (n = 27) increased electric organ discharge duration by 37 +/- 12% and amplitude by 24 +/- 9% at night and decreased it during the day. In contrast, females (n = 8) exhibited only minor electric organ discharge variation over time. Most of a male's increase occurred rapidly within the first 2-3 h of darkness. Electric organ discharge values gradually diminished during the second half of the dark period and into the next morning. Modulation of the second phase of the biphasic electric organ discharge produced most of the duration change in males, but both phases changed amplitude by similar amounts. Turning the lights off at mid-day triggered an immediate increase in electric organ discharge, suggesting modification of existing ion channels in the electric organ, rather than altered genomic expression. Exaggeration of electric organ discharge sex differences implies a social function. Daily reduction of duration and amplitude may reduce predation risk or energy expenditure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Darkness
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Lighting
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Temperature