Sensori-motor transformations during heat perception in larval zebrafish


April 20, 2016 - 1:00pm
Northwest 243
About the Speaker
Martin Haesemeyer (Engert Lab)

As animals explore their surroundings they need to evaluate sensory cues and perform appropriate behavioral actions in order to avoid noxious stimuli. Larval zebrafish are endemic to shallow waters, which are subject to large temperature fluctuations based on sunlight intensity. Zebrafish therefore rely on their ability to avoid temperature outside their physiological range. Indeed, from three days post fertilization larval zebrafish robustly avoid both hot and cold water temperatures. However, how sensory heat input is transformed into behavioral output is only poorly understood.

Using laser-based white noise heat stimulation in freely swimming larval zebrafish we recently derived behavioral models of the sensori-motor transformation underlying heat perception in larval zebrafish. These models accurately predict bout initiation in response to dynamic heat stimuli and revealed that larval zebrafish integrate temperature information over a timescale of 400 ms in order to decide on swim-bout initiation. During this integration time they are sensitive to both absolute heat level as well as changes in temperature. The behavioral models put important constraints on the computations performed by the nervous system during heat perception. We are now beginning to identify heat-responsive neurons in the larval zebrafish brain with the aim to understand how the nervous system computes the features observed in our models.