Larval lampreys respond to skin illumination with a delayed burst of swimming in an attempt to escape the light. The photoresponse, which is independent of the lateral eyes and pineal organs, is most readily elicited by light shone on the tail. Behavioral studies in larval lampreys demonstrate that photosensory afferents innervating the tail are carried by a trunk lateral line nerve supplying regions caudal to the head. The present results confirm that bilateral transection of this nerve in larval sea lampreys markedly diminishes the photoresponse. The trunk lateral line nerve consists of the recurrent ramus of the anterior lateral line nerve and a ramus of the posterior lateral line nerve. Bilateral transection of the recurrent ramus does not affect the photoresponse, indicating that lateralis photosensory afferents enter the brain via the posterior lateral line nerve and terminate in the medial octavolateralis nucleus. Photosensory units were subsequently recorded in the trunk lateral line nerve, posterior lateral line nerve and the lateral line area of the medulla. Medullary photosensory units were localized to the medial nucleus, previously regarded as the primary mechanosensory nucleus. Photosensory units in lateral line nerves and the brain exhibited low, irregular spontaneous activity and, after latencies of 17–4 s, responded to tail illumination with repeated impulse bursts. Response thresholds were 0.1-0.9 mWcm−2. Responses to sustained illumination were slowly adapting. A skin photosense is thus an additional lateralis modality in lampreys.

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