Temporal filtering properties of ampullary electrosensory neurons in the torus semicircularis of eigenmannia: Evolutionary and computational implications

E. S. Fortune, G. J. Rose

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24 Scopus citations


Weakly electric fish have parallel electrosensory systems, the phylogenetically older ampullary system and the novel tuberous system. The tuberous system is an adaptation related to the evolution of active electrolocation. To examine the evolutionary relationship of the ampullary and tuberous systems, the temporal filtering properties of ampullary neurons in the dorsal torus semicircularis of Eigenmannia were studied. 'Whole-cell' recordings were made in vivo using patch type pipettes. The responses of 19 neurons to sinusoidal electric signals (40 Hz) were recorded and the anatomy of these neurons demonstrated by injection of biocytin. All eight low-pass ampullary neurons had broad, relatively smooth post-synaptic potentials (psps) that at low frequencies nicely reflected the sinusoidal stimuli. These neurons had somata of 10-14 ¼m diameter and thick, spiny dendrites. Eight high-pass neurons were recorded, representing three physiological classes. The first class (3 neurons) had psps that roughly followed the sinusoidal time course of the stimulus; the psp morphology was similar to low-pass neurons. The second class had many small, fast, individual psps; their rate of occurrence varied with the stimulus. Finally, four neurons showed psps that were of constant width across stimulus frequencies. All three classes of high-pass neurons had small somata (8-10 ¼m diameter) with thin dendrites and either few or no spines. Some of these neurons had large varicosities on the dendrites. Three neurons had band-pass filtering properties: neurons that showed strong band-pass properties were morphologically similar to low-pass neurons. Comparisons of the temporal filtering, shapes of post-synaptic potentials, and anatomy of ampullary and tuberous neurons in the torus suggest that the circuitry for tuberous processing in the torus may have evolved as an elaboration or duplication of the ampullary system. The mechanisms underlying the low-pass filtering characteristics of tuberous neurons therefore appear to have predated the evolution of the tuberous system and to have served as a pre-adaptation for the evolution of the jamming avoidance response. In addition, these data support the hypothesis that spine density influences the temporal filtering properties of neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)312-323
Number of pages12
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Evolution of behavior
  • Frequency filtering
  • Spines
  • Whole-cell patch


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