The Mechanosensory Lateral Line System Mediates Activation of Socially-Relevant Brain Regions during Territorial Interactions

Julie M Butler, Karen P Maruska
Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 2016, 10: 93
Animals use multiple senses during social interactions and must integrate this information in the brain to make context-dependent behavioral decisions. For fishes, the largest group of vertebrates, the mechanosensory lateral line system provides crucial hydrodynamic information for survival behaviors, but little is known about its function in social communication. Our previous work using the African cichlid fish, Astatotilapia burtoni, provided the first empirical evidence that fish use their lateral line system to detect water movements from conspecifics for mutual assessment and behavioral choices. It is unknown, however, where this socially-relevant mechanosensory information is processed in the brain to elicit adaptive behavioral responses. To examine for the first time in any fish species which brain regions receive contextual mechanosensory information, we quantified expression of the immediate early gene cfos as a proxy for neural activation in sensory and socially-relevant brain nuclei from lateral line-intact and -ablated fish following territorial interactions. Our in situ hybridization results indicate that in addition to known lateral line processing regions, socially-relevant mechanosensory information is processed in the ATn (ventromedial hypothalamus homolog), Dl (putative hippocampus homolog), and Vs (putative medial extended amygdala homolog). In addition, we identified a functional network within the conserved social decision-making network (SDMN) whose co-activity corresponds with mutual assessment and behavioral choice. Lateral line-intact and -ablated fight winners had different patterns of co-activity of these function networks and group identity could be determined solely by activation patterns, indicating the importance of mechanoreception to co-activity of the SDMN. These data show for the first time that the mechanosensory lateral line system provides relevant information to conserved decision-making centers of the brain during territorial interactions to mediate crucial behavioral choices such as whether or not to engage in a territorial fight. To our knowledge, this is also the first evidence of a subpallial nucleus receiving mechanosensory input, providing important information for elucidating homologies of decision-making circuits across vertebrates. These novel results highlight the importance of considering multimodal sensory input in mediating context-appropriate behaviors that will provide broad insights on the evolution of decision-making networks across all taxa.


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