• afferent neuron;
  • Mauthner cell;
  • neuromast;
  • plasticity;
  • somatotopy


The lateral line system of larval zebrafish is emerging as a model to study a range of topics in neurobiology, from hair cell regeneration to sensory processing. However, despite numerous studies detailing the patterning and development of lateral line neuromasts, little is known about the organization of their connections to afferent neurons and targets in the hindbrain. We found that as fish grow and neuromasts proliferate over the body surface, the number of afferent neurons increases linearly. The number of afferents innervating certain neuromasts increases over time, while it decreases for other neuromasts. The ratio of afferent neurons to neuromasts differs between the anterior and posterior lateral line system, suggesting potential differences in sensitivity threshold or spatial resolution. A single afferent neuron routinely contacts a group of neuromasts, suggesting that different afferent neurons can convey information about receptive fields along the body. When afferent projections are traced into the hindbrain, where a distinct somatotopy has been previously described, we find that this general organization is absent at the Mauthner cell. We speculate that directional input from the lateral line is less important at an early age, whereas the speed of the escape response is paramount, and that directional responses arise later in development. By quantifying morphological connections in the lateral line system, this study provides a detailed foundation to understand how hydrodynamic information is processed and ultimately translated into appropriate motor behaviors. J. Comp. Neurol. 520:1376–1386, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.