Is the Mauthner Cell a Vertebrate Command Neuron? A Neuroethological Perspective on an Evolving Concept

  • Robert C. Eaton
Part of the NATO Advanced Science Institutes Series book series (NSSA, volume 56)


The command neuron concept has been particularly influential in neurobiology because it provides a mechanism to explain how behavior patterns might be triggered by particular combinations of stimuli. Wiersma and Ikeda (1964) proposed that command neurons are cells that receive convergent sensory input and then trigger pattern generating circuits responsible for mediating behavioral acts. According to this hypothesis, the command neuron is neither motor nor sensory. Instead, it serves as a critical decision making unit, a type of neural pushbutton, which is responsible for triggering a particular behavior or distinct component of a behavioral sequence (for review see Kupfermann and Weiss, 1978). A significant problem, however, has been the design of experiments that would convincingly demonstrate the concept. This is because of the difficulty of describing the underlying neural circuitry and then determining its function in behaving animals: A major question has been to decide appropriate criteria that must be applied to explain how behavioral acts are caused by the interactions in the neural networks.


Command Neuron Medial Longitudinal Fasciculus Mauthner Neuron Lateral Giant Mauthner Cell 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert C. Eaton
    • 1
  1. 1.Behavioral Biology Group Dept. Biology, E.P.O.University of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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