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The Mauthner cell in a fish with top-performance and yet flexibly tuned C-starts. II. Physiology [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Peter Machnik, Kathrin Leupolz, Sabine Feyl, Wolfram Schulze, and Stefan Schuster

The parallel occurrence in archerfish of fine-tuned and yet powerful predictive C-starts as well as of kinematically identical escape C-starts makes archerfish an interesting system to test hypotheses on the roles played by the Mauthner cells, a pair of giant reticulospinal neurons. In this study, we show that the archerfish Mauthner cell shares all hallmark physiological properties with that of goldfish. Visual and acoustic inputs are received by the ventral and lateral dendrite, respectively, and cause complex postsynaptic potentials (PSPs) even in surgically anaesthetised fish. PSP shape did not indicate major differences between the species, but simple light flashes caused larger PSPs in archerfish, often driving the cell to fire an action potential. Probing archerfish in the classical tests for feedback inhibition, established in the Mauthner-associated networks in goldfish, revealed no differences between the two species, including the indications for electrical and chemical synaptic components. Also, the established hallmark experiments on feed-forward inhibition showed no differences between the goldfish and archerfish Mauthner system. Extending these experiments to visual stimuli also failed to detect any differences between the two species and suggested that acoustical and visual input cause feed-forward inhibition, the magnitude, time course and duration of which match that of the respective PSPs in both archerfish and goldfish. Our findings question simple views on the role of the Mauthner cell and suggest that the archerfish Mauthner cell should be a good system to explore the function of these giant neurons in more sophisticated C-start behaviours.

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