• Anguilla;
  • dopamine;
  • eel;
  • locomotion;
  • neural activity


The eel, Anguilla anguilla, as with other fish species, recovers well from spinal cord injury. We assessed the quality of locomotion of spinally transected eels from measurements made from video recordings of individuals swimming at different speeds in a water tunnel. Following transection of the spinal cord just caudal to the anus, the animals displayed higher tail beat frequencies and lower tail beat amplitudes than before surgery, owing to the loss of power in this region. Swimming performance then progressively recovered, appearing normal within 1 month of surgery. Eels with similar transections, but given regular, repeated intraperitoneal injections (50 mg/kg) of l-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (l-DOPA) showed an equivalent pattern of decline and recovery that was 10–20 days shorter than that seen in non-treated fish. Axonal growth into the denervated cord, as determined from anterograde labelling experiments, was also more rapid in the drug-treated fish. l-DOPA treatment increased the activity of all fish for up to 18 h, and accelerated the spontaneous movements (‘spinal swimming’) made by the denervated, caudal portion of the animal that appeared following transection. We suggest that this enhancement of locomotion underlies the accelerated axonal growth and, hence, functional recovery.