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Title: Neuronal circuits underlying visual attention during naturalistic behaviour in zebrafish larvae
Author: Henriques, Pedro Miguel Dias
ISNI:       0000 0004 8499 8436
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2019
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To survive, animals need to sustain behavioural responses towards specific environmental stimuli to achieve an overall goal. One example is the hunting behaviour of zebrafish larvae, which is characterised by a set of discrete visuomotor events that begin with prey detection, followed by target-directed swims and end with prey capture. Several studies have begun elucidating the neuronal circuits that govern prey detection and initiation of hunting routines, which are largely dependent on the midbrain optic tectum (OT). However, it is not known how the brain is able to sustain a behavioural routine directed towards a specific target, especially in complex environments containing distractors. In this study, I have discovered that the nucleus isthmus (NI), a midbrain nucleus implicated in visual attention in other vertebrates, is required for sustained tracking of prey during hunting routines in zebrafish larvae. NI neurons co-express cholinergic and glutamatergic markers and possess two types of axonal projection morphology. The first type targets the ipsilateral OT and AF7, a retinorecipient pretectal region involved in hunting. The second type projects bilaterally to the deep OT layers. Laser ablation of the NI followed by tracking of naturalistic hunting behaviour, revealed that while hunting initiation rates and motor kinematics were unaltered, ablated animals showed an elevated probability of aborting hunting routines midway. Moreover, 2-photon calcium imaging of tethered larvae during a closed-loop virtual reality hunting assay, showed that NI neurons are specifically active during hunting. These results suggest that the NI supports the maintenance of action sequences towards specific prey targets during hunting, most likely by modulating pretectal and tectal activity. This in turn supports its presence at the centre of an evolutionarily conserved circuit to control selective attention to ethologically relevant stimuli in the presence of competing distractors.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available