5 years ago

Visual Threat Assessment and Reticulospinal Encoding of Calibrated Responses in Larval Zebrafish

Visual Threat Assessment and Reticulospinal Encoding of Calibrated Responses in Larval Zebrafish
David L. McLean, Kiran Bhattacharyya, Malcolm A. MacIver


All visual animals must decide whether approaching objects are a threat. Our current understanding of this process has identified a proximity-based mechanism where an evasive maneuver is triggered when a looming stimulus passes a subtended visual angle threshold. However, some escape strategies are more costly than others, and so it would be beneficial to additionally encode the level of threat conveyed by the predator's approach rate to select the most appropriate response. Here, using naturalistic rates of looming visual stimuli while simultaneously monitoring escape behavior and the recruitment of multiple reticulospinal neurons, we find that larval zebrafish do indeed perform a calibrated assessment of threat. While all fish generate evasive maneuvers at the same subtended visual angle, lower approach rates evoke slower, more kinematically variable escape responses with relatively long latencies as well as the unilateral recruitment of ventral spinal projecting nuclei (vSPNs) implicated in turning. In contrast, higher approach rates evoke faster, more kinematically stereotyped responses with relatively short latencies, as well as bilateral recruitment of vSPNs and unilateral recruitment of giant fiber neurons in fish and amphibians called Mauthner cells. In addition to the higher proportion of more costly, shorter-latency Mauthner-active responses to greater perceived threats, we observe a higher incidence of freezing behavior at higher approach rates. Our results provide a new framework to understand how behavioral flexibility is grounded in the appropriate balancing of trade-offs between fast and slow movements when deciding to respond to a visually perceived threat.

Publisher URL: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)31021-7

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.08.012

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