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Ultrastructural evidence of GABA-ergic inhibition and glutamatergic excitation in the pacemaker nucleus of the gymnotiform electric fish, Hypopomus


The medullary pacemaker nucleus of Hypopomus triggers each electric organ discharge (EOD) by a single command pulse. It consists of electrotonically coupled ‘pacemaker’ cells, which generate the rhythm, and ‘relay’ cells, which follow the pacemaker cells and excite the spinal motoneurons of the electric organ. The pacemaker cells receive two inputs from the complex of the diencephalic prepacemaker nucleus (PPn), a GABA-ergic inhibition and a glutamatergic excitation. Relay cells, on the other hand, receive two glutamatergic inputs, one from a subnucleus of the PPn, the PPn-C, and a second from the sublemniscal prepacemaker nucleus (SPPn).

We have labelled afferents to the pacemaker nucleus by injecting HRP to specific sites of the prepacemaker complex. By using immunogold-labelled antibodies and en-grid staining techniques, we demonstrated GABA and glutamate immunoreactivity in labelled synaptic profiles of ultra-thin sections of the pacemaker nucleus. The two types of synapses were interspersed on the surfaces of pacemaker cells, with GABA-immunoreactive synapses apparently representing the GABA-mediated input of the ‘PPn-I’, an inhibitory subdivision of the PPn, and glutamate-immunoreactive synapses representing the input of the ‘PPn-G’, an excitatory subdivision of the PPn. Only glutamate-immunoreactive synapses were found on relay cells.

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α-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid


central posterior nucleus


electric organ discharge


γ-aminobutyric acid


L-glutamate decarboxylase


horseradish peroxidase


jamming avoidance response




(diencephalic) prepacemaker nucleus


sublemniscal prepacemaker nucleus


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Kennedy, G., Heiligenberg, W. Ultrastructural evidence of GABA-ergic inhibition and glutamatergic excitation in the pacemaker nucleus of the gymnotiform electric fish, Hypopomus . J Comp Physiol A 174, 267–280 (1994).

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Key words

  • Electric fish
  • Pacemaker
  • GABA
  • Glutamate
  • Ultrastructure