Journal of comparative physiology

, Volume 152, Issue 2, pp 209–217 | Cite as

Physiological characterization of electroreceptors in the lampreysIchthyomyzon unicuspis andPetromyzon marinus

  • David Bodznick
  • David G. Preston


  1. 1.

    We examined the physiological properties and distribution of electroreceptors in the skin of adult lampreys (vertebrates, class: Agnatha) by recording electroreceptor afferent fiber activity in the anterior lateral line nerve. Stimulation was with uniform or local electric fields in the water around the fish.

  2. 2.

    Lampreys possess ampullary electroreceptors widely distributed over the head and trunk (Fig. 1) that are sensitive to weak, low-frequency electric fields. The response thresholds to uniform fields are 1–10 μV/cm and the dynamic range of the receptors includes 4 log units of intensity (Fig. 3). Maximum sensitivity with sinusoidal currents is to frequencies ≦ 1 Hz (Fig. 4).

  3. 3.

    Like the ampullary receptors of elasmobranchs and other non-teleost fishes, lamprey electroreceptors are excited by weak cathodal fields (i.e. negative at the receptor opening relative to a distant reference) and inhibited by anodal fields. With very intense stimuli (1–10 mV/cm) the responses reverse so that strong cathodal fields are inhibitory and anodal fields are excitatory (Fig. 3). These results indicate that similar transduction mechanisms exist in the electroreceptors of lampreys and non-teleost jawed fishes. Likewise, as in other non-teleosts, all electroreceptors in lampreys including those on the trunk are innervated by the anterior lateral line nerve.

  4. 4.

    The similarities in receptor physiology and innervation taken in conjunction with known similarities in medullary organization indicate that electrosensory systems of lampreys and non-teleost gnathostome fishes are homologous.



Local Electric Field Fiber Activity Physiological Characterization Sinusoidal Current Intense Stimulus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



anterior lateral line nerve


posterior lateral line nerve


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Akoev GN, Ilyinsky OB, Zadan PM (1976) Physiological properties of electroreceptors of marine skates. Comp Biochem Physiol [A] 53:201–209Google Scholar
  2. Bennett MVL (1971) Electroreception. In:Hoar WS, Randal DS (eds) Fish physiology. Academic Press, New York, pp 493–574Google Scholar
  3. Berge JA (1979) The perception of weak electric AC currents by the European eel,Anguilla anguilla. Comp Biochem Physiol [A] 62:915–919Google Scholar
  4. Bodznick DA, Northcutt RG (1980) Segregation of electro- and mechanoreceptive inputs to the elasmobranch medulla. Brain Res 195:313–321Google Scholar
  5. Bodznick D, Northcutt RG (1981) Electroreception in lampreys; Evidence that the earliest vertebrates were electroreceptive. Science 212:465–467Google Scholar
  6. Boord RL, Campbell CBG (1977) Structural and functional organization of the lateral line system of sharks. Am Zool 17:431–441Google Scholar
  7. Bullock TH (1982) Electroreception. Annu Rev Neurosci 5:121–170Google Scholar
  8. Bullock TH, Bodznick DA, Northcutt RG (1983) The phylogenetic distribution of electroreception: Evidence for convergent evolution of a sense modality. Brain Res Rev (in press)Google Scholar
  9. Bullock TH, Northcutt RG, Bodznick DA (1982) Evolution of electroreception. Trends Neurosci 5:50–53Google Scholar
  10. Clusin WT, Bennett MVL (1977a) Calcium-activated conductance in skate electroreceptors: current clamp experiments. J Gen Physiol 69:121–143Google Scholar
  11. Clusin WT, Bennett MVL (1977b) Calcium-activated conductance in skate electroreceptors: voltage clamp experiments. J Gen Physiol 69:145–182Google Scholar
  12. Enger PS, Kristensen L, Sand O (1976) The perception of weak electric DC currents by the European eel (Anguilla anguilla). Comp Biochem Physiol [A] 54:101–103Google Scholar
  13. Fields RD, Lange DG (1980) Electroreception in the ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei). Science 207:547–548Google Scholar
  14. Fritzsch B (1981a) The pattern of lateral-line afferents in urodeles. A horeseradish peroxidase study. Cell Tissue Res 218:581–594Google Scholar
  15. Fritzsch B (1981b) Electroreceptors and direction specific arrangement in the lateral line system of salamanders. Z Naturforsch [C] 36:493–495Google Scholar
  16. Hardisty MW (1979) Biology of the cyclostomes. Chapman and Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Himstedt W, Kopp J, Schmidt W (1982) Electroreception guides feeding behavior in amphibians. Naturwissenschaften 69:552–553Google Scholar
  18. Johnston JB (1905) The cranial nerve components ofPetromyzon. Morphol Jahrb 34:149–203Google Scholar
  19. Jørgensen JM (1980) The morphology of the Lorenzinian ampullae of the sturgeonAcipenser ruthenus (Pisces: Chondrostei). Acta Zool (Stockh) 61:87–92Google Scholar
  20. Jørgensen JM, Flock A, Wersäll J (1972) The Lorenzinian ampullae ofPolyodon spathula. Z Zellforsch 130:362–377Google Scholar
  21. Kalmijn AJ (1971) The electric sense of sharks and rays. J Exp Biol 55:371–383Google Scholar
  22. Kalmijn AJ (1972) Bioelectric fields in sea water and the function of the ampullae of Lorenzini in elasmobranch fishes. Scripps Inst Oceanogr Ref Ser, pp 72–83Google Scholar
  23. Kalmijn AJ (1974) The detection of electric fields from inanimate and animate sources other than electric organs. In: Fessard A (ed) Handbook of sensory physiology, vol III/3. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 147–200Google Scholar
  24. Kleerekoper H, Sibakin K (1956a) An investigation of the electrical “spike” potentials produced by the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) in the water surrounding the head region. J Fish Res Board Can 13:375–383Google Scholar
  25. Kleerekoper H, Sibakin K (1956b) Spike potentials produced by the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) in the water surrounding the head region. Nature 178:490–491Google Scholar
  26. Kleerekoper H, Sibakin K (1957) An investigation of the electrical “spike” potentials produced by the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) in the water surrounding the head region. II J Fish Res Board Can 14:145–151Google Scholar
  27. Koester DM, Boord RL (1978) The central projections of first order anterior lateral line neurons of the clearnose skate,Raja eglanteria. Am Zool 18:587Google Scholar
  28. McCormick CA (1982) The organization of the octavolateralis area in actinopterygian fishes: A new interpretation. J Morphol 171:159–181Google Scholar
  29. Lindström T (1949) On the cranial nerves of the cyclostomes with special reference to n. trigeminus. Acta Zool (Stockh) 30:315–458Google Scholar
  30. Moy-Thomas JA, Miles RS (1971) Palaeozoic fishes. Saunders, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  31. Münz H, Claas B, Fritzsch B (1982) Electrophysiological evidence of electroreception in the axolotlSiredon mexicanum. Neurosci Lett 28:107–111Google Scholar
  32. Murray RW (1962) The responses of the ampullae of Lorenzini of elasmobranchs to electrical stimulation. J Exp Biol 39:119–128Google Scholar
  33. Northcutt RG (1980a) Central auditory pathways in anamniotic vertebrates. In: Popper AN, Fay RR (eds) Comparative studies of hearing in vertebrates. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 79–118Google Scholar
  34. Northcutt RG (1980b) Anatomical evidence of electroreception in the coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae). Zentralbl Veterinaer Med [C] 9:289–295Google Scholar
  35. Northcutt RG, Bodznick DA, Bullock TH (1980) Most non- teleost fishes have electroreception. Proc Int Union Physiol Sci 14:614Google Scholar
  36. Obara S, Bennett MVL (1972) Mode of operation of ampullae of Lorenzini of the skate,Raja. J Gen Physiol 60:534–557Google Scholar
  37. Pearson AA (1936) The acoustico-lateral centers and the cerebellum, with fiber connections, of fishes. J Comp Neurol 65:201–294Google Scholar
  38. Peters RC, Bretschneider F (1972) Electric phenomena in the habitat of the catfishIctalurus nebulosus LeS. J Comp Physiol 81:345–362Google Scholar
  39. Pfeiffer W (1968) Die Fahrenholzschen Organe der Dipnoi und Brachiopterygii. Z Zellforsch 90:127–147Google Scholar
  40. Randall DJ (1972) Respiration. In:Hardisty MW, Potter IC (eds) The biology of lampreys, vol 2. Academic Press, London, pp 287–306Google Scholar
  41. Romer AS (1966) Vertebrate paleontology, 3rd edn. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  42. Rommel SA Jr, McCleave JD (1973) Sensitivity of American eels (Anguilla rostrata) and Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) to weak electric and magnetic fields. J Fish Res Board Can 30:657–663Google Scholar
  43. Roth A (1972) Wozu dienen die Elektrorezeptoren der Welse? J Comp Physiol 79:113–135Google Scholar
  44. Roth A (1973) Electroreceptors in Brachiopterygii and Dipnoi. Naturwissenschaften 60:106–107Google Scholar
  45. Roth A, Tscharntke H (1976) Ultrastructure of the ampullary electroreceptors in lungfish and Brachiopterygii. Cell Tissue Res 173:95–108Google Scholar
  46. Rovainen CM (1974) Respiratory motoneurons in lampreys. J Comp Physiol 94:57–68Google Scholar
  47. Rovainen CM (1977) Neural control of ventilation in the lamprey. Fed Proc 36:2386–2389Google Scholar
  48. Royce WF, Smith S, Hartt AC (1968) Models of oceanic migrations of Pacific salmon and comments on guidance mechanisms. Fish Bull 66:441–462Google Scholar
  49. Szabo T (1974) Anatomy of the specialized lateral line organs of electroreception. In: Fessard A (ed) Handbook of sensory physiology, vol III/3. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 13–58Google Scholar
  50. Szamier RB, Bennett MVL (1980) Ampullary electroreceptors in the freshwater rayPotamotrygon. J Comp Physiol 138:225–230Google Scholar
  51. Teeter JH, Szamier RB, Bennett MVL (1980) Ampullary electroreceptors in the sturgeonScaphirhyncus platorhyncus (Rafinesque). J Comp Physiol 138:213–223Google Scholar
  52. Thomson KS (1977) On the individual history of cosmine and a possible electroreceptive function of the pore-canal system in fossil fishes. In: Andrews SM, Moles RS, Walker RD (eds) Problems in vertebrate evolution. Academic, New York, pp 247–271Google Scholar
  53. Yamada Y (1973) Fine structure of the ordinary lateral line organ: I. The neuromast of lamprey,Entosphenus japonicus. J Ultrastruct Res 43:1–17Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Bodznick
    • 1
  • David G. Preston
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyWesleyan UniversityMiddletownUSA

Personalised recommendations