Evolution of Submillisecond Temporal Coding in Vertebrate Electrosensory and Auditory Systems

  • Bruce A. CarlsonEmail author
Part of the Springer Handbook of Auditory Research book series (SHAR, volume 70)


The ability to detect submillisecond differences in the arrival times of stimuli at different sensory receptors has evolved independently in multiple clades. Auditory and electrosensory systems across vertebrates provide well-studied examples of how specialized sensory pathways are able to achieve such extreme temporal sensitivity. These circuits share a remarkable number of similarities at the cellular and synaptic levels of organization despite serving different sensory modalities and despite arising from multiple independent evolutionary origins. This points to a degree of predictability in neural circuit evolution and to the power of natural selection in driving evolutionary change to neural circuits to solve a specific behavioral problem. However, these similar cellular and synaptic building blocks are used to construct different circuit solutions to this behavioral problem in different clades. These differences likely reflect some combination of chance, evolutionary history, and adaptation. Importantly, these differences also make it clear that discoveries in one organism cannot be extrapolated to other organisms, highlighting the importance of comparative approaches in addressing general problems in neuroscience.


Anticoincidence detection Calyx Coincidence detection Convergent evolution Delay line Electric organ discharge Electroreceptor Interaural time difference Jamming avoidance response Jeffress model Neural code Phase locking Sound localization 



This work was supported by Grants IOS-1050701, IOS-1255396, and IOS-1755071 from the National Science Foundation.

Compliance with Ethics Requirements

Bruce A. Carlson declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology, Washington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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