As in most sensory systems electrosensory images in weakly electric fish are encoded in two parallel pathways, fast and slow. From the work on wave type electric fish these pathways are thought to encode the time and amplitude of electrosensory signals respectively. This article focuses on the primary afferents giving origin to the slow path of the pulse type weakly electric fish Gymnotus omarorum. We found that burst duration coders respond with a high-frequency train of spikes to each electric organ discharge. They also show high sensitivity to phase-frequency distortions of the self-generated local electric field. We explored this sensitivity by manipulating the longitudinal impedance of a probe cylinder to modulate the stimulus waveform, while extracellularly recording isolated primary afferents. Resistive loads only affect the amplitude of the re-afferent signals without distorting the waveform. Capacitive loads cause large waveform distortions aside from amplitude changes. Stepping from a resistive to a capacitive load in such a way that the stimulus waveform was distorted, without changing its total energy, caused strong changes in latency, inter-spike interval and number of spikes of primary afferents responses. These burst parameters are well correlated suggesting that they may contribute synergistically in driving downstream neurons. This correlation also suggests that each receptor encodes a single parameter in the stimulus waveform. The finding of waveform distortion sensitivity is relevant because it may contribute to: a) enhance electroreceptive range in the peripheral “electrosensory field”, b) a better identification of living preys at the “foveal electrosensory field” and c) to detect the presence and orientation of conspecifics. Our results also suggest a revision of the classical view of amplitude and time encoding by fast and slow pathways in pulse type electric fish.
- Received November 28, 2016.
- Accepted February 13, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd