Brain-wide mapping of water flow perception in zebrafish

Gilles Vanwalleghem*, Kevin Schuster, Michael A. Taylor, Itia A. Favre-Bulle, Ethan K. Scott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Information about water flow, detected by lateral line organs, is critical to the behavior and survival of fish and amphibians. While certain aspects of water flow processing have been revealed through electrophysiology, we lack a comprehensive description of the neurons that respond to water flow and the network that they form. Here, we use brain-wide calcium imaging in combination with microfluidic stimulation to map out, at cellular resolution, neuronal responses involved in perceiving and processing water flow information in larval zebrafish. We find a diverse array of neurons responding to head-to-tail (h-t) flow, tail-to-head (t-h) flow, or both. Early in this pathway, in the lateral line ganglia, neurons respond almost exclusively to the simple presence of h-t or t-h flow, but later processing includes neurons responding specifically to flow onset, representing the accumulated displacement of flow during a stimulus, or encoding the speed of the flow. The neurons reporting on these more nuanced details are located across numerous brain regions, including some not previously implicated in water flow processing. A graph theory-based analysis of the brain-wide water flow network shows that a majority of this processing is dedicated to h-t flow detection, and this is reinforced by our finding that details like flow velocity and the total accumulated flow are only encoded for the h-t direction. The results represent the first brain-wide description of processing for this important modality, and provide a departure point for more detailed studies of the flow of information through this network.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Pages (from-to)4130-4144
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Calcium imaging
  • Lateral line
  • Light sheet microscopy
  • Microfluidic
  • Sensory
  • Zebrafish


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