Fish detect water motions with their mechanosensory lateral line. The basic functional unit of the lateral line is the neuromast. In most fish species neuromasts are located in lateral line canals (canal neuromasts) or on the skin (superficial neuromasts). In this paper we describe the lateral line system of pufferfish, Takifugu obscurus. If threatened, this fish inflates its body by sucking water into the esophagus. Pufferfish lack a canal system but have neuromasts located directly on the skin or in open grooves. Each groove houses Tall, Medium, and Short Neuromasts, based on the height of their pedestal. One or more Medium neuromasts were always located between two Tall neuromasts, and the Short neuromasts were scattered between them. Tall neuromasts showed phasic responses to water jets, similar to the canal neuromasts of other fish species. In contrast, the Medium and Short neuromasts showed tonic responses to water jets. The response properties of nerve fibers that innervated the latter two types of neuromasts were similar to the response properties of the superficial neuromasts found in other fish species. Our results suggest that each groove of a pufferfish has two functional groups of neuromasts. This may allow pufferfish to extract spatial and temporal hydrodynamic information, despite the changes in body shape that occur during and after inflation. The short neuromasts at the bottom of a groove most likely supplement the medium neuromasts when the body is maximally inflated.
Chao Li, Xiaojie Wang, Jianyong Wu, Xuguang Zhang, Chunxin Fan, Hongyi Guo, and Jiakun Song