Mauthner cells (M-cells) are large reticulospinal neurons located in the hindbrain of teleost fish. They are key neurons involved in a characteristic behavior known as the C-start or escape response that occurs when the organism perceives a threat. The M-cell has been extensively studied in adult goldfish where it has been shown to receive a wide range of excitatory, inhibitory and neuromodulatory signals. We have been examining M-cell activity in embryonic zebrafish in order to study aspects of synaptic development in a vertebrate preparation. In the late 1990s Ali and colleagues developed a preparation for patch clamp recording from M-cells in zebrafish embryos, in which the CNS was largely intact. The objective at that time was to record synaptic activity from hindbrain neurons, spinal cord neurons and trunk skeletal muscle while maintaining functional synaptic connections within an intact brain-spinal cord preparation. This preparation is still used in our laboratory today. To examine the mechanisms underlying developmental synaptic plasticity, we record excitatory (AMPA and NMDA-mediated) and inhibitory (GABA and glycine) synaptic currents from developing M-cells. Importantly, this unique preparation allows us to return to the same cell (M-cell) from preparation to preparation to carefully examine synaptic plasticity and neuro-development in an embryonic organism. The benefits provided by this preparation include 1) intact, functional synaptic connections onto the M-cell, 2) relatively inexpensive preparations, 3) a large supply of readily available embryos 4) the ability to return to the same cell type (i.e. M-cell) in every preparation, so that synaptic development at the level of an individual cell can be examined from fish to fish, and 5) imaging of whole preparations due to the transparent nature of the embryos.
Image: Roy B, Ali DW: Patch Clamp Recordings from Embryonic Zebrafish Mauthner Cells, Figure 2