Thompson, A.W., Vanwalleghem, G.C., Heap, L.A., Scott, E.K. (2016) Functional Profiles of Visual-, Auditory-, and Water Flow-Responsive Neurons in the Zebrafish Tectum. Current biology : CB. 26(6):743-54.
The tectum has long been known as a hub of visual processing, and recent studies have elucidated many of the circuit-level mechanisms by which tectal neurons filter visual information. Here, we use population-scale imaging of tectal neurons expressing a genetically encoded calcium indicator to characterize tectal responses to non-visual stimuli in zebrafish. We identify ensembles of neurons responsive to stimuli for each of three sensory modalities: vision, audition, and water flow sensation. These ensembles display consistently represented response profiles to our stimuli, and each has a preferred stimulus and salient feature to which it is most responsive. Each sensory modality drives a unique spatial profile of activity in the tectal neuropil, suggesting that the neuropil's laminar structure functionally subserves multiple modalities. The positions of the responsive neurons in the periventricular layer are also distinct across modalities, and very few neurons are responsive to multiple modalities. The cells contributing to each ensemble are highly variable from trial to trial, but ensembles contain "cores" of reliably responsive cells, suggesting a mechanism whereby they could maintain consistency in reporting salient stimulus features while retaining flexibility to report on similar stimuli. Finally, we find that co-presentation of auditory or water flow stimuli suppress visual responses in the tectum.