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The ability to evade a predator is crucial to the survival of an animal. Throughout the history of evolution, animals have developed vital escape “reflexes” in responses to threatening stimuli. The Mauthner cells (M-cells) are at the center of many amphibian and teleost fish startle behaviors. These large reticulospinal neurons are useful for studying sensorimotor networks and synaptic plasticity. Using fluorescent retrograde stained images, local field potentials, and loose cell attached recordings in Xenopus laevis tadpoles we created a way of categorizing cellular properties of neurons of the M-cell network. By looking at initial spike latency, median spike latency and average number of spikes, we were able to parse neurons neighboring the M-cell into three longitudinal ‘zones’ (Medial, Inter-band, and Lateral). Medial cells spiked with a longer initial latency, while inter-band cells, and lateral cells, spiked with a shorter initial latency. We compared the activity seen in the control group to that of an acoustically habituated one, to observe the effects of behavior plasticity. However, no significant differences were observed between control and habituated animals. The three zones each showed significantly differing spike latencies suggesting that the cells in these regions might play divergent roles in the startle escape pathway.
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Witanowska, Patrycja, "Neurons of the M-cell Network: their properties, and role in startle response plasticity" (2018). Senior Projects Spring 2018. 8.