To determine the organizational principles underlying the peripheral electrosensory nervous system of weakly electric gymnotiform teleosts we labelled each of the four anterior lateral line nerve branches with HRP. We determined the position of labelled cell bodies within the ganglion and followed anterogradely filled fibers to their termination sites in one of the four somatotopic maps in the electroreceptive lateral line lobe (ELL). Within the ganglion, cell bodies exhibit a loose somatotopy based on nerve branch position: trunk electroreceptors have their cell bodies located in the caudal ganglion; cell bodies to the head receptors are rostral. Cell bodies to the head exhibit a rough dorsoventral polarity, supraorbital cells tend to be located dorsally, infraorbital cells centrally, and mandibular cells ventrally. Despite this general somatotopy there is substantial overlap (up to 30%) of cell bodies among regions. There appears to be no rostrocaudal topography within nerve branch regions. Iontophoretic WGA-HRP injected into the medial segment of the ELL retrogradely labelled cell bodies that innervate ampullary organs. These cell bodies were dispersed throughout the ganglion, indicating that cell bodies do not cluster by receptor type. Peripherally directed axons from the ganglion appear to undergo an active reorganization in order to form the nerve branches. Within nerve branches, axons to a particular area of skin do not cluster together.
Centrally from the ganglion, axons retain the position of their cell body until they reach the ELL border. Once in the ELL, fibers become sorted in the deep fiber layer according to receptor type and the map they terminate in. This reorganization involves rearrangement of fascicles and axons within fascicles. In toto, proceeding from peripheral to central, the electrosensory periphery loses at least a portion of its receptor topography in the distal nerve and ganglion and then acquires both a functional and somatotopic organization after reaching the ELL; conceptually it is torn down and rebuilt again. From an ontogenetic perspective, axonal growth occurs from the ganglion outward; the fact that ganglion cell bodies are not highly organized while the receptors they innervate and their central processes are suggests that active axonal guidance mechanisms are involved.