Perception and coding of envelopes in weakly electric fishes

Sarah A. Stamper, Eric S. Fortune, Maurice J. Chacron

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Natural sensory stimuli have a rich spatiotemporal structure and can often be characterized as a high frequency signal that is independently modulated at lower frequencies. This lower frequency modulation is known as the envelope. Envelopes are commonly found in a variety of sensory signals, such as contrast modulations of visual stimuli and amplitude modulations of auditory stimuli. While psychophysical studies have shown that envelopes can carry information that is essential for perception, how envelope information is processed in the brain is poorly understood. Here we review the behavioral salience and neural mechanisms for the processing of envelopes in the electrosensory system of wave-type gymnotiform weakly electric fishes. These fish can generate envelope signals through movement, interactions of their electric fields in social groups or communication signals. The envelopes that result from the first two behavioral contexts differ in their frequency content, with movement envelopes typically being of lower frequency. Recent behavioral evidence has shown that weakly electric fish respond in robust and stereotypical ways to social envelopes to increase the envelope frequency. Finally, neurophysiological results show how envelopes are processed by peripheral and central electrosensory neurons. Peripheral electrosensory neurons respond to both stimulus and envelope signals. Neurons in the primary hindbrain recipient of these afferents, the electrosensory lateral line lobe (ELL), exhibit heterogeneities in their responses to stimulus and envelope signals. Complete segregation of stimulus and envelope information is achieved in neurons in the target of ELL efferents, the midbrain torus semicircularis (Ts).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2393-2402
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


  • Electrosensory system
  • Jamming avoidance response
  • Second-order statistics
  • Social envelope response


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