Article

Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 172, Issue 5, pp 611-618

First online:

Activation of Mauthner neurons during prey capture

  • J. G. CanfieldAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Utah
  • , G. J. RoseAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Utah

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Abstract

The Mauthner (M-) cells, a bilateral pair of medullary neurons in fish, initiate the characteristic “C-start” predatory escape response of teleosts. Similar movements have been described during hatching, social interactions, and feeding. M-cell firing, however, has not been correlated directly with these other behaviors. The objective of this study was to determine whether the M-cell, in addition to escape, plays a role in feeding.
  1. 1.

    Goldfish were chronically implanted with electrodes positioned near the axon cap of one of the two M-cells. Subsequently, M-cell activity was monitored for up to 8 days while fish were surface feeding on live crickets.

     
  2. 2.

    The M-cell fires and the fish performs a C-shaped flexion in association with the terminal phase of prey capture. Thus, the M-cell is active in the context of at least two behaviors, predator escape and prey capture, and may be considered a part of behaviorally shared neural circuitry.

     
  3. 3.

    For the goldfish, Mauthner-initiated flexions during feeding rapidly remove the prey from the water's surface and minimizes the fish's own susceptibility to surface predation. Other species may possess a diverse repertoire of Mauthner-mediated feeding behaviors that depend on their adaptive specializations for predation. Moreover, group competition between predators and their prey may have facilitated a “neural arms race” for M-cell morphology and physiology.

     

Key words

Mauthner cell Prey capture Behavioral multifunction Escape neuron Shared circuitry Neu ral arms race