Most animals have complex auditory systems that identify salient features of the acoustic landscape to direct appropriate responses. In fish, these features include the volume, frequency, complexity, and temporal structure of auditory stimuli transmitted through water. Larval fish have simple brains compared to adults, but swim freely and depend on sophisticated sensory processing for survival. Zebrafish larvae, an important model for studying brain-wide neural networks, have thus far been found to possess a rudimentary auditory system, sensitive to a narrow range of frequencies and without evident sensitivity to auditory features that are salient and ethologically important to adult fish. Here, we have combined a novel method for delivering water-borne sounds, a diverse assembly of acoustic stimuli, and whole-brain calcium imaging to describe the responses of individual auditory neurons across the brains of zebrafish larvae. Our results reveal responses to frequencies ranging from 100Hz to 4kHz, with evidence of frequency discrimination from 100Hz to 2.5kHz. Frequency-selective neurons are located in numerous regions of the brain, and neurons responsive to the same frequency are spatially grouped in some regions. Using functional clustering, we identified categories of neurons that are selective for pure tones of a single frequency, white noise, the sharp onset of auditory stimuli, and stimuli involving a gradual crescendo. These results suggest a more nuanced auditory system than has previously been described in larval fish and provide insights into how a young animals auditory system can both function acutely and serve as the scaffold of a more complex adult system.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience