Electric Fish Module

brownghostSensory systems provide a wealth of information about the environment and the body to the animal. From this wealth of information, the brain extracts information that is relevant for making behavioural decisions, e.g. in the context of foraging or communication with conspecifics. In the electric fish cycle, we are going to investigate how neurons in the hindbrain and midbrain become more selective to behaviorally relevant sensory stimuli.

Weakly electric fish generate an electric field around their body (electric organ discharge: EOD) and sense perturbations of the self-generated field caused by the presence of nearby objects, such as prey, or by the EODs of conspecifics. Depending on the properties of the conspecific EOD a given fish may modulate its EOD in certain stereotyped fashion.

On the second day (i.e. after the demo) of the electric fish cycle, you will take a quantitative look at some of the animal’s electrical behaviors. Over the next few days, you will learn how to record extracellularly from pyramidal cells in the hindbrain as well as performing in vivo blind whole cell patch clamp recordings from midbrain neurons. You will be introduced to a range of analysis methods including information-theoretical methods.

Projects for the second weak may ask questions about the role of specific feedback pathways for sensory processing or about the role of specific ion channels for the response properties of central neurons. Other options include the processing of information on moving objects, which is crucial for prey detection and localization, linear versus nonlinear sensory processing, and electrosensory processing in species that have not been studied yet.


Electric Fish Module Faculty and Teaching Assistants

mauriceMaurice Chacron
McGill University

My long term research goal is to understand the basic mechanisms by which neurons process sensory information. While critical for diagnostic and treatment of sensory deficiencies, these mechanisms are poorly understood to this day. Since sensory processing strategies are shared amongst sensory systems, significant progress towards this goal can be achieved by studying the somewhat simpler sensory systems of lower vertebrates. These animals respond to simple natural stimuli with obvious behavioral relevance and share common brain architecture with higher vertebrates including humans. We use a combination of behavior, in vivo electrophysiology, and modeling to link cellular processes to sensory processing at the systems level as well as behavior in weakly electric fish. Research projects are on diverse topics such as: learning and memory, population coding of sensory input, feedback, and neuromodulators. Maurice was an NS&B student in 2004 and has been a faculty member since 2005.

fortune,E_imageEric Fortune
New Jersey Institute of Technology

Our research examines how neural systems control behavior. We use integrative studies that exploit the strong relations between behavioral adaptations, neural mechanisms, and the evolutionary and natural histories of the organism. The ultimate goal is to uncover fundamental neural mechanisms that are used in vertebrate species to generate a wide range of behaviors. Eric has been a faculty member since 2005.

Michael MarkhamMichael Markham
University of Oklahoma

My research program investigates how animals balance the costs and benefits of their communication signals.  We tackle these questions in weakly electric fish that communicate and image their worlds with electric fields.  These electric organ discharges are a direct result of action potentials and their underlying ionic currents (of several microAmps!) in thousands of electrocytes in the electric organ. We want to understand the molecular, cellular, and ionic mechanisms that make such signals possible. What molecular and biophysical adaptations in electrocytes allow sustained action potential rates exceeding 500 Hz throughout the lifespan?  We also investigate how some species regulate the metabolic costs and predation risks associated with these signals by modulating the electrocyte action potentials and ionic currents on timescales ranging from seconds to months. At the organismal level we examine how the metabolic demands of electric signaling impact behavior and social interactions. Finally, from an evolutionary perspective, we are interested in the evolution of ionic mechanisms that enable and produce signal diversity across species.  Michael was an NS&B student in 2003, a TA in 2004, a Wednesday Night Speaker in 2015 and has been a faculty member since 2017.

Michael_Metzen smallMichael Metzen
McGill University

I am mainly interested in systems neuroscience, in particular how the brain processes natural sensory stimuli (i.e. communication stimuli, first- and second-order stimuli) that ultimately control specific observable behaviors. To understand the mechanisms by which neurons across successive stages of sensory processing mediate appropriate behaviors, I am combining different approaches such as electrophysiology, computer modeling, as well as behavioral assays using different species of weakly electric fish as an animal model system. Michael has been a TA since 2012 and became a faculty member in 2017.

Vielka Salazar
Cape Breton University

My research focus area is Behavioral Neuroendocrinology. The long-term objective of my research program is to characterize the neuroendocrine pathways that regulate social behaviors, by specifically looking at the electrocommunication signals of gymnotiform weakly electric fish. Projects in my lab investigate how circadian rhythms, metabolic costs, social environments, neuromodulators, and sex & stress hormones influence the electric communication signals of gymnotiform fish. To get a full understanding of the neuroendocrine mechanisms that regulate social behaviors, we apply an integrative approach that combines techniques in molecular biology, endocrine profiling, pharmacology, histology, microscopy, behavioral analysis, and signal recording and processing. Vielka (Vicky) was an NS&B student in 2006 and joined the electric fish module in 2019.


Ulises Ricoy
University of Arizona

Ulises Ricoy is the Faculty director for the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science program at UA. Ulises has pioneered low cost approaches in Neuroethology utilizing behavior, physiology and computational tools with undergraduates. He received doctoral training with Joe L. Martinez Jr., (SPINES course Co-Founder at MBL) in behavioral neuroscience. Ulises was a postdoc at the Vollum Institute examining synaptic dynamics in central synapses upon behavioral relevant stimulus patterns. Ulises was a SPINES course assistant in 2004, SPINES student in 2005, and Neurobiology student in 2006. He joined the NS&B faculty in 2019.


kathryn_gallmanKathryn Gallman

I am interested in how external light, food, social, and temperature cues modulate internal rhythms that govern activity cycles in animals. Specifically, I want to understand how changes in the the timing, duration, and availability of external cues affect patterns of activity. I use weakly electric fishes to answer these questions by eavesdropping on changes in the amplitudes of their electric fields that are correlated with activity levels. Kathryn joined the electric fish module in 2021.