Gahtan. E., Tanger. P., and Baier, H. (2005) Visual prey capture in larval zebrafish is controlled by identified reticulospinal neurons downstream of the tectum. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 25(40):9294-9303.
Many vertebrates are efficient hunters and recognize their prey by innate neural mechanisms. During prey capture, the internal representation of the prey's location must be constantly updated and made available to premotor neurons that convey the information to spinal motor circuits. We studied the neural substrate of this specialized visuomotor system using high-speed video recordings of larval zebrafish and laser ablations of candidate brain structures. Seven-day-old zebrafish oriented toward, chased, and consumed paramecia with high accuracy. Lesions of the retinotectal neuropil primarily abolished orienting movements toward the prey. Wild-type fish tested in darkness, as well as blind mutants, were impaired similarly to tectum-ablated animals, suggesting that prey capture is mainly visually mediated. To trace the pathway further, we examined the role of two pairs of identified reticulospinal neurons, MeLc and MeLr, located in the nucleus of the medial longitudinal fasciculus of the tegmentum. These two neurons extend dendrites into the ipsilateral tectum and project axons into the spinal cord. Ablating MeLc and MeLr bilaterally impaired prey capture but spared several other behaviors. Ablating different sets of reticulospinal neurons did not impair prey capture, suggesting a selective function of MeLr and MeLc in this behavior. Ablating MeLc and MeLr neurons unilaterally in conjunction with the contralateral tectum also mostly abolished prey capture, but ablating them together with the ipsilateral tectum had a much smaller effect. These results suggest that MeLc and MeLr function in series with the tectum, as part of a circuit that coordinates prey capture movements.