Olfactory discrimination of complex mixtures of amino acids by the black bullhead Ameiurus melas


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On the basis of previous findings of behavioural discrimination of amino acids and on the knowledge of electrophysiology of the catfish (genera Ictalurus and Ameiurus) olfactory organs, behavioural experiments that investigated olfactory discrimination of amino acid mixtures were carried out on the black bullhead Ameiurus melas. Repeated presentations of food-rewarded mixtures released increased swimming activity measured by counting the number of turns >90° within 90 s of stimulus addition. Non-rewarded amino acids and their mixtures released little swimming activity, indicating that A. melas discriminated between the conditioned and the non-conditioned stimuli. Two questions of mixture discrimination were addressed: (1) Are A. melas able to detect components within simple and complex amino acid mixtures? (2) What are the smallest differences between two complex mixtures that A. melas can detect? Three and 13 component mixtures tested were composed primarily of equipotent amino acids [determined by equal electroolfactogram (EOG) amplitude] that contained L-Cys at ×100 the equipotent concentration. Ameiurus melas initially perceived the ternary amino acid mixture as its more stimulatory component alone [i.e. cysteine (Cys)], whereas the conditioned 13 component mixture containing the more stimulatory L-Cys was perceived immediately as different from L-Cys alone. The results indicate that components of ternary mixtures are detectable by A. melas but not those of more complex mixtures. To test for the smallest detectable differences in composition between similar multimixtures, all mixture components were equipotent. Initially, A. melas were unable to discriminate the mixtures of six amino acids from the conditioned mixtures of seven amino acids, whereas they discriminated immediately the mixtures of four and five amino acids from the conditioned mixture. Experience with dissimilar mixtures enabled the A. melas to start discriminating the seven-component conditioned mixture from its six-component counterparts. After fewer than five training trials, A. melas discriminated the mixtures of nine and 10 amino acids from a conditioned mixture of 12 equipotent amino acids; however, irrespective of the number of training trials, A. melas were unable to discriminate the 12 component mixture from its 11 component counterparts.