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Chagnaud, Boris P. and Bass, Andrew H. (2014): Vocal behavior and vocal central pattern generator organization diverge among toadfishes. In: Brain, Behavior and Evolution, Vol. 84, No. 1: pp. 51-65 [PDF, 993kB]


Among fishes, acoustic communication is best studied in toadfishes, a single order and family that includes species commonly known as toadfish and midshipman. However, there is a lack of comparative anatomical and physiological studies, making it difficult to identify both shared and derived mechanisms of vocalization among toadfishes. Here, vocal nerve labeling and intracellular in vivo recording and staining delineated the hindbrain vocal network of the Gulf toadfish Opsanus beta. Dextran-biotin labeling of the vocal nerve or intracellular neurobiotin fills of motoneurons delineated a midline vocal motor nucleus (VMN). Motoneurons showed bilaterally extensive dendritic arbors both within and lateral to the paired motor nuclei. The motoneuron activity matched that of the spike-like vocal nerve motor volley that determines the natural call duration and frequency. Ipsilateral vocal nerve labeling with biocytin or neurobiotin yielded dense bilateral transneuronal filling of motoneurons and coextensive columns of premotor neurons. These premotor neurons generated pacemaker-like action potentials matched 1:1 with vocal nerve and motoneuron firing. Transneuronal transport further revealed connectivity within and between the pacemaker-motor circuit and a rostral prepacemaker nucleus. Unlike the pacemaker-motor circuit, prepacemaker firing did not match the frequency of vocal nerve activity but instead was predictive of the duration of the vocal nerve volley that codes for call duration. Transneuronally labeled terminal-like boutons also occurred in auditory-recipient hindbrain nuclei, including neurons innervating the inner ear and lateral line organs. Together with studies of midshipman, we propose that separate premotor populations coding vocal frequency and duration with direct premotor coupling to auditory-lateral line nuclei are plesiomorphic characters for toadfishes. Unlike in midshipman, transneuronal labeling in toadfishes reveals an expansive column of pacemaker neurons that is weakly coupled to prepacemaker neurons, a character that likely depends on the extent of gap junction coupling. We propose that these and other anatomical characters contribute to neurophysiological properties that, in turn, sculpt the species-typical patterning of frequency and amplitude-modulated vocalizations.

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