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eLife

Peripheral sensory coding through oscillatory synchrony in weakly electric fish.


PMID 26238277

Abstract

Adaptations to an organism's environment often involve sensory system modifications. In this study, we address how evolutionary divergence in sensory perception relates to the physiological coding of stimuli. Mormyrid fishes that can detect subtle variations in electric communication signals encode signal waveform into spike-timing differences between sensory receptors. In contrast, the receptors of species insensitive to waveform variation produce spontaneously oscillating potentials. We found that oscillating receptors respond to electric pulses by resetting their phase, resulting in transient synchrony among receptors that encodes signal timing and location, but not waveform. These receptors were most sensitive to frequencies found only in the collective signals of groups of conspecifics, and this was correlated with increased behavioral responses to these frequencies. Thus, different perceptual capabilities correspond to different receptor physiologies. We hypothesize that these divergent mechanisms represent adaptations for different social environments. Our findings provide the first evidence for sensory coding through oscillatory synchrony.

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