Active sensing associated with spatial learning reveals memory-based attention in an electric fish.
ABSTRACT: Active sensing behaviors reveal what an animal is attending to and how it changes with learning. Gymnotus sp, a gymnotiform weakly electric fish, generates an electric organ discharge (EOD) as discrete pulses to actively sense its surroundings. We monitored freely behaving gymnotid fish in a large dark "maze" and extracted their trajectories and EOD pulse pattern and rate while they learned to find food with electrically detectable landmarks as cues. After training, they more rapidly found food using shorter, more stereotyped trajectories and spent more time near the food location. We observed three forms of active sensing: sustained high EOD rates per unit distance (sampling density), transient large increases in EOD rate (E-scans) and stereotyped scanning movements (B-scans) were initially strong at landmarks and food, but, after learning, intensified only at the food location. During probe (no food) trials, after learning, the fish's search area and intense active sampling was still centered on the missing food location, but now also increased near landmarks. We hypothesize that active sensing is a behavioral manifestation of attention and essential for spatial learning; the fish use spatial memory of landmarks and path integration to reach the expected food location and confine their attention to this region.
Project description:The weakly electric gymnotiform fish produce a rhythmic electric organ discharge (EOD) used for communication and active electrolocation. The EOD frequency is entrained to a medullary pacemaker nucleus. During communication and exploration, this rate can be modulated by a pre-pacemaker network, resulting in specific patterns of rate modulation, including stereotyped communication signals and dynamic interactions with conspecifics known as a Jamming Avoidance Response (JAR). One well-known stereotyped signal is the chirp, a brief upward frequency sweep usually lasting less than 500 ms. The abrupt change in frequency has dramatic effects on phase precession between two signalers. We report here on chirping in Brachyhypopmus cf. sullivani, Microsternarchus cf. bilineatus Lineage C, and Steatogenys cf. elegans during conspecific playback experiments. Microsternarchus also exhibits two behaviors that include chirp-like extreme frequency modulations, EOD interruptions with hushing silence and tumultuous rises, and these are described in terms of receiver impact. These behaviors all have substantial impact on interference caused by conspecifics and may be a component of the JAR in some species. Chirps are widely used in electronic communications systems, sonar, and other man-made active sensing systems. The brevity of the chirp, and the phase disruption it causes, makes chirps effective as attention-grabbing or readiness signals. This conforms to the varied assigned functions across gymnotiforms, including pre-combat aggressive or submissive signals or during courtship and mating. The specific behavioral contexts of chirp expression vary across species, but the physical structure of the chirp makes it extremely salient to conspecifics. Chirps may be expected in a wide range of behavioral contexts where their function depends on being noticeable and salient. Further, in pulse gymnotiforms, the chirp is well structured to comprise a robust jamming signal to a conspecific receiver if specifically timed to the receiver's EOD cycle. Microsternarchus and Steatogenys exploit this feature and include chirps in dynamic jamming avoidance behaviors. This may be an evolutionary re-use of a circuitry for a specific signal in another context.
Project description:Glass knifefish (Eigenmannia) are a group of weakly electric fishes found throughout the Amazon basin. Their electric organ discharges (EODs) are energetically costly adaptations used in social communication and for localizing conspecifics and other objects including prey at night and in turbid water. Interestingly, a troglobitic population of blind cavefish Eigenmannia vicentespelea survives in complete darkness in a cave system in central Brazil. We examined the effects of troglobitic conditions, which includes a complete loss of visual cues and potentially reduced food sources, by comparing the behavior and movement of freely behaving cavefish to a nearby epigean (surface) population (Eigenmannia trilineata). We found that the strengths of electric discharges in cavefish were greater than in surface fish, which may result from increased reliance on electrosensory perception, larger size, and sufficient food resources. Surface fish were recorded while feeding at night and did not show evidence of territoriality, whereas cavefish appeared to maintain territories. Surprisingly, we routinely found both surface and cavefish with sustained differences in EOD frequencies that were below 10 Hz despite being within close proximity of about 50 cm. A half century of analysis of electrosocial interactions in laboratory tanks suggest that these small differences in EOD frequencies should have triggered the "jamming avoidance response," a behavior in which fish change their EOD frequencies to increase the difference between individuals. Pairs of fish also showed significant interactions between EOD frequencies and relative movements at large distances, over 1.5 m, and at high differences in frequencies, often >50 Hz. These interactions are likely "envelope" responses in which fish alter their EOD frequency in relation to higher order features, specifically changes in the depth of modulation, of electrosocial signals.
Project description:Most vertebrates use active sensing strategies for perception, cognition and control of motor activity. These strategies include directed body/sensor movements or increases in discrete sensory sampling events. The weakly electric fish, Gymnotus sp., uses its active electric sense during navigation in the dark. Electric organ discharge rate undergoes transient increases during navigation to increase electrosensory sampling. Gymnotus also use stereotyped backward swimming as an important form of active sensing that brings objects toward the electroreceptor dense fovea-like head region. We wirelessly recorded neural activity from the pallium of freely swimming Gymnotus. Spiking activity was sparse and occurred only during swimming. Notably, most units tended to fire during backward swims and their activity was on average coupled to increases in sensory sampling. Our results provide the first characterization of neural activity in a hippocampal (CA3)-like region of a teleost fish brain and connects it to active sensing of spatial environmental features.
Project description:A crucial step in forming spatial representations of the environment involves the estimation of relative distance. Active sampling through specific movements is considered essential for optimizing the sensory flow that enables the extraction of distance cues. However, in electric sensing, direct evidence for the generation and exploitation of sensory flow is lacking. Weakly electric fish rely on a self-generated electric field to navigate and capture prey in the dark. This electric sense provides a blurred representation of the environment, making the exquisite sensory abilities of electric fish enigmatic. Stereotyped back-and-forth swimming patterns reminiscent of visual peering movements are suggestive of the active generation of sensory flow, but how motion contributes to the disambiguation of the electrosensory world remains unclear. Here, we show that a dipole-like electric field geometry coupled to motion provides the physical basis for a nonvisual parallax. We then show in a behavioral assay that this cue is used for electrosensory distance perception across phylogenetically distant taxa of weakly electric fish. Notably, these species electrically sample the environment in temporally distinct ways (using discrete pulses or quasisinusoidal waves), suggesting a ubiquitous role for parallax in electric sensing. Our results demonstrate that electrosensory information is extracted from sensory flow and used in a behaviorally relevant context. A better understanding of motion-based electric sensing will provide insight into the sensorimotor coordination required for active sensing in general and may lead to improved electric field-based imaging applications in a variety of contexts.
Project description:The localization of distinct landmarks plays a crucial role in encoding new spatial memories. In mammals, this function is performed by hippocampal neurons that sparsely encode an animal's location relative to surrounding objects. Similarly, the dorsolateral pallium (DL) is essential for spatial learning in teleost fish. The DL of weakly electric gymnotiform fish receives both electrosensory and visual input from the preglomerular nucleus (PG), which has been hypothesized to encode the temporal sequence of electrosensory or visual landmark/food encounters. Here, we show that DL neurons in the Apteronotid fish and in the Carassius auratus (goldfish) have a hyperpolarized resting membrane potential (RMP) combined with a high and dynamic spike threshold that increases following each spike. Current-evoked spikes in DL cells are followed by a strong small-conductance calcium-activated potassium channel (SK)-mediated after-hyperpolarizing potential (AHP). Together, these properties prevent high frequency and continuous spiking. The resulting sparseness of discharge and dynamic threshold suggest that DL neurons meet theoretical requirements for generating spatial memory engrams by decoding the landmark/food encounter sequences encoded by PG neurons. Thus, DL neurons in teleost fish may provide a promising, simple system to study the core cell and network mechanisms underlying spatial memory.
Project description:Mate choice is mediated by a range of sensory cues, and assortative mating based on these cues can drive reproductive isolation among diverging populations. A specific feature of mormyrid fish, the electric organ discharge (EOD), is used for electrolocation and intraspecific communication. We hypothesized that the EOD also facilitates assortative mating and ultimately promotes prezygotic reproductive isolation in African weakly electric fishes. Our behavioural experiments using live males as well as EOD playback demonstrated that female mate recognition is influenced by EOD signals and that females are attracted to EOD characteristics of conspecific males. The dual function of the EOD for both foraging and social communication (including mate recognition leading to assortative mating) underlines the importance of electric signal differentiation for the divergence of African weakly electric fishes. Thus, the EOD provides an intriguing mechanism promoting trophic divergence and reproductive isolation between two closely related Campylomormyrus species occurring in sympatry in the lower Congo rapids.
Project description:The precise timing of neuronal activity is critical for normal brain function. In weakly electric fish, the medullary pacemaker network (PN) sets the timing for an oscillating electric organ discharge (EOD) used for electric sensing. This network is the most precise biological oscillator known, with sub-microsecond variation in oscillator period. The PN consists of two principle sets of neurons, pacemaker and relay cells, that are connected by gap junctions and normally fire in synchrony, one-to-one with each EOD cycle. However, the degree of gap junctional connectivity between these cells appears insufficient to provide the population averaging required for the observed temporal precision of the EOD. This has led to the hypothesis that individual cells themselves fire with high precision, but little is known about the oscillatory dynamics of these pacemaker cells. As a first step towards testing this hypothesis, we have developed a biophysical model of a pacemaker neuron action potential based on experimental recordings. We validated the model by comparing the changes in oscillatory dynamics produced by different experimental manipulations. Our results suggest that this relatively simple model can capture a large range of channel dynamics exhibited by pacemaker cells, and will thus provide a basis for future work on network synchrony and precision.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Understanding the genomic basis of phenotypic diversity can be greatly facilitated by examining adaptive radiations with hypervariable traits. In this study, we focus on a rapidly diverged species group of mormyrid electric fish in the genus Paramormyrops, which are characterized by extensive phenotypic variation in electric organ discharges (EODs). The main components of EOD diversity are waveform duration, complexity and polarity. Using an RNA-sequencing based approach, we sought to identify gene expression correlates for each of these EOD waveform features by comparing 11 specimens of Paramormyrops that exhibit variation in these features. RESULTS:Patterns of gene expression among Paramormyrops are highly correlated, and 3274 genes (16%) were differentially expressed. Using our most restrictive criteria, we detected 145-183 differentially expressed genes correlated with each EOD feature, with little overlap between them. The predicted functions of several of these genes are related to extracellular matrix, cation homeostasis, lipid metabolism, and cytoskeletal and sarcomeric proteins. These genes are of significant interest given the known morphological differences between electric organs that underlie differences in the EOD waveform features studied. CONCLUSIONS:In this study, we identified plausible candidate genes that may contribute to phenotypic differences in EOD waveforms among a rapidly diverged group of mormyrid electric fish. These genes may be important targets of selection in the evolution of species-specific differences in mate-recognition signals.
Project description:Animal communication signals that simultaneously share the same sensory channel are likely to co-evolve to maximize the transmission of each signal component. Weakly electric fish continuously produce a weak electric field that functions in communication. Fish modulate the electric organ discharge (EOD) on short timescales to produce context-specific signals called chirps. EODs and chirps are simultaneously detected by electroreceptors and processed in the electrosensory system. We analyzed these signals, first to explore whether EOD waveform is encoded in the signal received by electroreceptors and then to examine how EODs and chirps interact to influence conspicuousness. Our findings show that gross discrimination of sinusoidal from complex EOD waveforms is feasible for all species, but fine discrimination of waveform may be possible only for species with waveforms of intermediate complexity. The degree of chirp frequency modulation and chirp relative decay strongly influenced chirp conspicuousness, but other chirp parameters were less influential. The frequency difference between the interacting EODs also strongly impacted chirp conspicuousness. Finally, we developed a method for creating hybrid chirp/EOD combinations to independently analyze the impact of chirp species, EOD species, and EOD difference frequency on chirp conspicuousness. All three components and their interactions strongly influenced chirp conspicuousness, which suggests that evolutionary changes in parameters of either chirps or EODs are likely to influence chirp detection. Examining other environmental factors such as noise created by fish movement and species-typical patterns of sociality may enrich our understanding of how interacting EODs affect the detection and discrimination of chirps across species.
Project description:African weakly electric fish of the mormyrid genus Campylomormyrus generate pulse-type electric organ discharges (EODs) for orientation and communication. Their pulse durations are species-specific and elongated EODs are a derived trait. So far, differential gene expression among tissue-specific transcriptomes across species with different pulses and point mutations in single ion channel genes indicate a relation of pulse duration and electrocyte geometry/excitability. However, a comprehensive assessment of expressed Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) throughout the entire transcriptome of African weakly electric fish, with the potential to identify further genes influencing EOD duration, is still lacking. This is of particular value, as discharge duration is likely based on multiple cellular mechanisms and various genes. Here we provide the first transcriptome-wide SNP analysis of African weakly electric fish species (genus Campylomormyrus) differing by EOD duration to identify candidate genes and cellular mechanisms potentially involved in the determination of an elongated discharge of C. tshokwe. Non-synonymous substitutions specific to C. tshokwe were found in 27 candidate genes with inferred positive selection among Campylomormyrus species. These candidate genes had mainly functions linked to transcriptional regulation, cell proliferation and cell differentiation. Further, by comparing gene annotations between C. compressirostris (ancestral short EOD) and C. tshokwe (derived elongated EOD), we identified 27 GO terms and 2 KEGG pathway categories for which C. tshokwe significantly more frequently exhibited a species-specific expressed substitution than C. compressirostris. The results indicate that transcriptional regulation as well cell proliferation and differentiation take part in the determination of elongated pulse durations in C. tshokwe. Those cellular processes are pivotal for tissue morphogenesis and might determine the shape of electric organs supporting the observed correlation between electrocyte geometry/tissue structure and discharge duration. The inferred expressed SNPs and their functional implications are a valuable resource for future investigations on EOD durations.