Over the past decade, research on the neural basis of communication and jamming avoidance in gymnotiform electric fish has concentrated on comparative studies of the premotor control of these behaviors, on the sensory processing of communication signals and on their control through the endocrine system, and tackled the question of the degree to which these behaviors share neural elements in the sensory-motor command chain by which they are controlled. From this wealth of investigations, we learned, first, how several segregated premotor pathways controlling a single central pattern generator, the medullary pacemaker nucleus, can provide a large repertoire of behaviorally relevant motor patterns. The results suggest that even small evolutionary modifications in the premotor circuitry can yield extensive changes in the behavioral output. Second, we have gained some insight into the concerted action of the brainstem, the diencephalon and the long-neglected forebrain in sensory processing and premotor control of communication behavior. Finally, these studies shed some light on the behavioral significance of multiple sensory brain maps in the electrosensory lateral line lobe that long have been a mystery. From these latter findings, it is tempting to interpret the information processing in the electrosensory system as a first step in the evolution towards the ‘distributed hierarchical’ organization commonly realized in sensory systems of higher vertebrates.

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