Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 192, Issue 6, pp 613–624 | Cite as

Regulation and modulation of electric waveforms in gymnotiform electric fish

  • Philip K. StoddardEmail author
  • Harold H. Zakon
  • Michael R. Markham
  • Lynne McAnelly


Weakly electric gymnotiform fish specialize in the regulation and modulation of the action potentials that make up their multi-purpose electric signals. To produce communication signals, gymnotiform fish modulate the waveforms of their electric organ discharges (EODs) over timescales spanning ten orders of magnitude within the animal’s life cycle: developmental, reproductive, circadian, and behavioral. Rapid changes lasting milliseconds to seconds are the result of direct neural control of action potential firing in the electric organ. Intermediate-term changes taking minutes to hours result from the action of melanocortin peptides, the pituitary hormones that induce skin darkening and cortisol release in many vertebrates. Long-term changes in the EOD waveform taking days to weeks result from the action of sex steroids on the electrocytes in the electric organ as well as changes in the neural control structures in the brain. These long-term changes in the electric organ seem to be associated with changes in the expression of voltage-gated ion channels in two gene families. Electric organs express multiple voltage-gated sodium channel genes, at least one of which seems to be regulated by androgens. Electric organs also express multiple subunits of the shaker (Kv1) family of voltage-gated potassium channels. Expression of the Kv1 subtype has been found to vary with the duration of the waveform in the electric signal. Our increasing understanding of the mechanisms underlying precise control of electric communication signals may yield significant insights into the diversity of natural mechanisms available for modifying the performance of ion channels in excitable membranes. These mechanisms may lead to better understanding of normal function in a wide range of physiological systems and future application in treatment of disease states involving pathology of excitable membranes.


Androgens Electrogenesis Phenotypic plasticity 



The research was supported by NIH grants MBRS GM08205 to PKS, NS025513 to HHZ, and MH064550 to MRM.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip K. Stoddard
    • 1
    Email author
  • Harold H. Zakon
    • 2
  • Michael R. Markham
    • 1
  • Lynne McAnelly
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences Florida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Section of Neurobiology, Patterson LabsUniversity of Texas AustinAustinUSA

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