Development of vestibular behaviors in zebrafish
Most animals orient their bodies with respect to gravity to facilitate locomotion and perception. The neural circuits responsible for these orienting movements have long served as a model to address fundamental questions in systems neuroscience. Though postural control is vital, we know little about development of either balance reflexes or the neural circuitry that produces them. Recent work in a genetically and optically accessible vertebrate, the larval zebrafish, has begun to reveal the mechanisms by which such vestibular behaviors and circuits come to function. Here we highlight recent work that leverages the particular advantages of the larval zebrafish to illuminate mechanisms of postural development, the role of sensation for balance circuit development, and the organization of developing vestibular circuits. Further, we frame open questions regarding the developmental mechanisms for functional circuit assembly and maturation where studying the zebrafish vestibular system is likely to open new frontiers.
The Ancient Origins of Neural Substrates for Land Walking
Walking is the predominant locomotor behavior expressed by land-dwelling vertebrates, but it is unknown when the neural circuits that are essential for limb control first appeared. Certain fish species display walking-like behaviors, raising the possibility that the underlying circuitry originated in primitive marine vertebrates. We show that the neural substrates of bipedalism are present in the little skate Leucoraja erinacea, whose common ancestor with tetrapods existed âˆ¼420 million years ago. Leucoraja exhibits core features of tetrapod locomotor gaits, including left-right alternation and reciprocal extension-flexion of the pelvic fins. Leucoraja also deploys a remarkably conserved Hox transcription factor-dependent program that is essential for selective innervation of fin/limb muscle. This network encodes peripheral connectivity modules that are distinct from those used in axial muscle-based swimming and has apparently been diminished in most modern fish. These findings indicate that the circuits that are essential for walking evolved through adaptation of a genetic regulatory network shared by all vertebrates with paired appendages. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
Control of Movement Initiation Underlies the Development of Balance
Balance arises from the interplay of external forces acting on the body and internally generated movements. Many animal bodies are inherently unstable, necessitating corrective locomotion to maintain stability. Understanding how developing animals come to balance remains a challenge. Here we study the interplay among environment, sensation, and action as balance develops in larval zebrafish. We first model the physical forces that challenge underwater balance and experimentally confirm that larvae are subject to constant destabilization. Larvae propel in swim bouts that, we find, tend to stabilize the body. We confirm the relationship between locomotion and balance by changing larval body composition, exacerbating instability and eliciting more frequent swimming. Intriguingly, developing zebrafish come to control the initiation of locomotion, swimming preferentially when unstable, thus restoring preferred postures. To test the sufficiency of locomotor-driven stabilization and the developing control of movement timing, we incorporate both into a generative model of swimming. Simulated larvae recapitulate observed postures and movement timing across early development, but only when locomotor-driven stabilization and control of movement initiation are both utilized. We conclude the ability to move when unstable is the key developmental improvement to balance in larval zebrafish. Our work informs how emerging sensorimotor ability comes to impact how and why animals move when they do.
Extraocular motoneuron pools develop along a dorsoventral axis in zebrafish, Danio rerio
Both spatial and temporal cues determine the fate of immature neurons. A major challenge at the interface of developmental and systems neuroscience is to relate this spatiotemporal trajectory of maturation to circuit-level functional organization. This study examined the development of two extraocular motor nuclei (nIII and nIV), structures in which a motoneuron's identity, or choice of muscle partner, defines its behavioral role. We used retro-orbital dye fills, in combination with fluorescent markers for motoneuron location and birthdate, to probe spatial and temporal organization of the oculomotor (nIII) and trochlear (nIV) nuclei in the larval zebrafish. We describe a dorsoventral organization of the four nIII motoneuron pools, in which inferior and medial rectus motoneurons occupy dorsal nIII, while inferior oblique and superior rectus motoneurons occupy distinct divisions of ventral nIII. Dorsal nIII motoneurons are, moreover, born before motoneurons of ventral nIII and nIV. The order of neurogenesis can therefore account for the dorsoventral organization of nIII and may play a primary role in determining motoneuron identity. We propose that the temporal development of extraocular motoneurons plays a key role in assembling a functional oculomotor circuit. J. Comp. Neurol. 525:65-78, 2017. (c) 2016 The Authors The Journal of Comparative Neurology Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Gaze-stabilizing central vestibular neurons project asymmetrically to extraocular motoneuron pools
Within reflex circuits, specific anatomical projections allow central neurons to relay sensations to effectors that generate movements. A major challenge is to relate anatomical features of central neural populations -- such as asymmetric connectivity -- to the computations the populations perform. To address this problem, we mapped the anatomy, modeled the function, and discovered a new behavioral role for a genetically-defined population of central vestibular neurons in rhombomeres 5-7 of larval zebrafish. First, we found that neurons within this central population project preferentially to motoneurons that move the eyes downward. Concordantly, when the entire population of asymmetrically-projecting neurons was stimulated collectively, only downward eye rotations were observed, demonstrating a functional correlate of the anatomical bias. When these neurons are ablated, fish failed to rotate their eyes following either nose-up or nose-down body tilts. This asymmetrically-projecting central population thus participates in both up and downward gaze stabilization. In addition to projecting to motoneurons, central vestibular neurons also receive direct sensory input from peripheral afferents. To infer whether asymmetric projections can facilitate sensory encoding or motor output, we modeled differentially-projecting sets of central vestibular neurons. Whereas motor command strength was independent of projection allocation, asymmetric projections enabled more accurate representation of nose-up stimuli. The model shows how asymmetric connectivity could enhance the representation of imbalance during nose-up postures while preserving gaze-stabilization performance. Finally, we found that central vestibular neurons were necessary for a vital behavior requiring maintenance of a nose-up posture: swim bladder inflation. These observations suggest that asymmetric connectivity in the vestibular system facilitates representation of ethologically-relevant stimuli without compromising reflexive behavior.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTInterneuron populations use specific anatomical projections to transform sensations into reflexive actions. Here we examined how the anatomical composition of a genetically-defined population of balance interneurons in the larval zebrafish relates to the computations it performs. First, we found that the population of interneurons that stabilize gaze preferentially project to motoneurons that move the eyes downward. Next, we discovered through modeling that such projection patterns can enhance the encoding of nose-up sensations without compromising gaze stabilization. Finally we found that loss of these interneurons impairs a vital behavior, swim bladder inflation, that relies on maintaining a nose-up posture. These observations suggest that anatomical specialization permits neural circuits to represent relevant features of the environment without compromising behavior.
Efference copies: Side-eyeing across species
Efference copies of movement-inducing neural signals have been proposed to serve a role in gaze stabilization. Prior work has demonstrated a spino-extraocular motor circuit in the tadpole that relays copies of spinal commands to extraocular motor neurons. A recent study demonstrates the presence of this circuitry in mice, suggesting a unique method of gaze stabilization in the locomoting mouse.
Efference Copies: Hair Cells Are the Link
Animals must distinguish external stimuli from self-generated sensory input to guide appropriate behaviors. A recent study elucidates a cellular mechanism by which zebrafish perform this distinction while maintaining sensitivity to external environmental signals.
Zebrafish dscaml1 Deficiency Impairs Retinal Patterning and Oculomotor Function
Down Syndrome Cell Adhesion Molecules (dscam and dscaml1) are essential regulators of neural circuit assembly, but their roles in vertebrate neural circuit function are still mostly unexplored. We investigated the functional consequences of dscaml1 deficiency in the larval zebrafish (sexually undifferentiated) oculomotor system, where behavior, circuit function, and neuronal activity can be precisely quantified. Genetic perturbation of dscaml1 resulted in deficits in retinal patterning and light adaptation, consistent with its known roles in mammals. Oculomotor analyses revealed specific deficits related to the dscaml1 mutation, including severe fatigue during gaze stabilization, reduced saccade amplitude and velocity in the light, greater disconjugacy, and impaired fixation. Two-photon calcium imaging of abducens neurons in control and dscaml1 mutant animals confirmed deficits in saccade-command signals (indicative of an impairment in the saccadic premotor pathway), while abducens activation by the pretectum-vestibular pathway was not affected. Together, we show that loss of dscaml1 resulted in impairments in specific oculomotor circuits, providing a new animal model to investigate the development of oculomotor premotor pathways and their associated human ocular disorders.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTDscaml1 is a neural developmental gene with unknown behavioral significance. Using the zebrafish model, this study shows that dscaml1 mutants have a host of oculomotor (eye movement) deficits. Notably, the oculomotor phenotypes in dscaml1 mutants are reminiscent of human ocular motor apraxia, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by reduced saccade amplitude and gaze stabilization deficits. Population-level recording of neuronal activity further revealed potential subcircuit-specific requirements for dscaml1 during oculomotor behavior. These findings underscore the importance of dscaml1 in the development of visuomotor function and characterize a new model to investigate potential circuit deficits underlying human oculomotor disorders.
A primal role for the vestibular sense in the development of coordinated locomotion
Mature locomotion requires that animal nervous systems coordinate distinct groups of muscles. The pressures that guide the development of coordination are not well understood. To understand how and why coordination might emerge, we measured the kinematics of spontaneous vertical locomotion across early development in zebrafish (Danio rerio) . We found that zebrafish used their pectoral fins and bodies synergistically during upwards swims. As larvae developed, they changed the way they coordinated fin and body movements, allowing them to climb with increasingly stable postures. This fin-body synergy was absent in vestibular mutants, suggesting sensed imbalance promotes coordinated movements. Similarly, synergies were systematically altered following cerebellar lesions, identifying a neural substrate regulating fin-body coordination. Together these findings link the vestibular sense to the maturation of coordinated locomotion. Developing zebrafish improve postural stability by changing fin-body coordination. We therefore propose that the development of coordinated locomotion is regulated by vestibular sensation.
Encoding of Wind Direction by Central Neurons in Drosophila
Wind is a major navigational cue for insects, but how wind direction is decoded by central neurons in the insect brain is unknown. Here we find that walking flies combine signals from both antennae to orient to wind during olfactory search behavior. Movements of single antennae are ambiguous with respect to wind direction, but the difference between left and right antennal displacements yields a linear code for wind direction in azimuth. Second-order mechanosensory neurons share the ambiguous responses of a single antenna and receive input primarily from the ipsilateral antenna. Finally, we identify novel "wedge projection neurons" that integrate signals across the two antennae and receive input from at least three classes of second-order neurons to produce a more linear representation of wind direction. This study establishes how a feature of the sensory environment-wind direction-is decoded by neurons that compare information across two sensors.