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PBIO SEMINAR SERIES

Location: HSB G-328, 10:30am (unless otherwise noted)

February 20, 2014

"The Neural Basis of a Conserved Oculomotor Asymmetry"

David Schoppik, NYU

Host: Adrienne Fairhall

While the composition of a neural circuit is thought to constrain the behaviors it can generate, the complexity of most vertebrate circuits makes it difficult to understand how form defines function. Here we study how a previously unknown anatomical asymmetry in the vestibular system of the larval zebrafish might explain conserved anisotropies in oculomotor behavior. We find that larval zebrafish stabilize their gaze better following nose-up (surfacing) pitch tilts than following nose-down (diving) tilts. We identify a set of ~100 vestibular neurons projecting preferentially to motoneurons that stabilize gaze during upward swims. Targeted lesions demonstrate the necessity of these neurons for gaze stabilization, swim bladder inflation and viability. Optical activation of this asymmetric population rotates the eye as if in response to an upward swim. These results indicate that the asymmetric projection of vestibular neurons to motoneurons constitutes the anatomical basis for the superior gaze stabilization following upward swims, suggest a neural basis for a behavioral asymmetry conserved in primates, and establish a new system to explore the relationship between circuit form and function.