Catfish detect and identify invisible prey by sensing their ultra-weak electric fields with electroreceptors. Any neuron that deals with small-amplitude input has to overcome sensitivity limitations arising from inherent threshold non-linearities in spike-generation mechanisms. Many sensory cells solve this issue with stochastic resonance, in which a moderate amount of intrinsic noise causes irregular spontaneous spiking activity with a probability that is modulated by the input signal. Here we show that catfish electroreceptors have adopted a fundamentally different strategy. Using a reverse correlation technique in which we take spike interval durations into account, we show that the electroreceptors generate a supra-threshold bias current that results in quasi-periodically produced spikes. In this regime stimuli modulate the interval between successive spikes rather than the instantaneous probability for a spike. This alternative for stochastic resonance combines threshold-free sensitivity for weak stimuli with similar sensitivity for excitations and inhibitions based on single interspike intervals.
- white-noise analysis
- interspike intervals