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Blind cavefish retain functional connectivity in the tectum despite loss of retinal input

Evan Lloyd, Brittnee McDole, Martin Privat, James B Jaggard, Erik R Duboué, German Sumbre, Alex C Keene


Sensory systems display remarkable plasticity and are under strong evolutionary selection. The Mexican cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus, consists of eyed river-dwelling surface populations and multiple independent cave populations that have converged on eye loss, providing the opportunity to examine the evolution of sensory circuits in response to environmental perturbation. Functional analysis across multiple transgenic populations expressing GCaMP6s showed that functional connectivity of the optic tectum largely did not differ between populations, except for the selective loss of negatively correlated activity within the cavefish tectum, suggesting positively correlated neural activity is resistant to an evolved loss of input from the retina. Furthermore, analysis of surface-cave hybrid fish reveals that changes in the tectum are genetically distinct from those encoding eye loss. Together, these findings uncover the independent evolution of multiple components of the visual system and establish the use of functional imaging in A. mexicanus to study neural circuit evolution.

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Curr Biol. 2022 Sep 12 ;32(17):3720-3730.e3. doi : 10.1016/j.cub.2022.07.015. Epub 2022 Aug 4.