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Methods in Neuroscience
Goldfish Mauthner Cell - MAIN PAGE
All the photos here were taken at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts during the summer 2001 Neurobiology course. Many thanks to the course instructors and students who made these pages possible.
, Chairman of Neuroscience, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, neurobiology coursemaster
Bobby Kasthuri, neurobiology course student
Dima Rinberg, neurobiology course student
THOMAS PREUSS, PhD, neurobiology course instructor
Dissection      Recording 1       Recording 2       Recording 3
The goldfish Mauthner cell preparation is used as an in vivo model system of a simple excitatory and inhibitory network. It is an ideal model system because the anatomy is consistent and well known and the Mauthner cell and its connections underlie a specific and reproducible behavior (rapid escape, or startle response, upon hearing a sound). The synapses are mixed (i.e. electrical and chemical) allowing not only transmitter release but also electrical coupling between cells to be studied.

A pair of Mauthner cells is found in most fish and amphibia, one on each side of the brainstem (in the medulla at the level of the VIIIth nerve). The Mauthner cell is a reticulospinal neuron with extrememly large dendrites, so large in fact that intracellular recordings can be made from them.  There are two major dendrites: the Lateral dendrite and the Ventral or Medial (it depends on the species) dendrite.

The Mauthner cell receives input from most if not all sensory systems. Among these, the Mauthner cell receives input from hair cells in the saccular portion of the ear. The saccular afferents, which run in the VIIIth nerve, form synapses (called "club endings") on the distal portion of the lateral dendrite. Because the lateral dendrite is large enough to record from, and because the synapses from the afferent nerve are located only on the distal portion of the lateral dendrite, the Mauthner cell preparation allows investigators to study the mechanisms of vesicle release along the pathway from the hair cells and the Mauthner cell dendrite. To evoke transmitter release, the VIII nerve can be stimulated directly, or the hair cells can be stimulated with sound. 

Recordings are made using sharp intracellular microelectrodes filled with 3M KCl.   When recordings are made from the dendrites, electrode resistances are high, commonly 10-20 MOhms.  If someone wants to only record from the cell body, a 4 MOhm electrode will suffice.

For a recent review, please see Steven J. Zottoli and Donald S. Faber, "The Mauthner Cell: What has It Taught Us," The Neuroscientist, V6, Number 1, Feb 2000, pp 25-37.


Diagram of the Mauthner Cell and its basic connections

Reprinted from The Neuroscientist
"The Mauthner Cell: What has it Taught Us"
Steven J. Zottile, Donald S. Faber
Volume 6, No.1, Feb 2000, pp 25-37.
Reprinted by permission of Sage Publications, Inc.


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