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Experience, circuit dynamics, and forebrain recruitment in larval zebrafish prey capture.


Experience influences behavior, but little is known about how experience is encoded in the brain, and how changes in neural activity are implemented at a network level to improve performance. Here we investigate how differences in experience impact brain circuitry and behavior in larval zebrafish prey capture. We find that experience of live prey compared to inert food increases capture success by boosting capture initiation. In response to live prey, animals with and without prior experience of live prey show activity in visual areas (pretectum and optic tectum) and motor areas (cerebellum and hindbrain), with similar visual area retinotopic maps of prey position. However, prey-experienced animals more readily initiate capture in response to visual area activity and have greater visually-evoked activity in two forebrain areas: the telencephalon and habenula. Consequently, disruption of habenular neurons reduces capture performance in prey-experienced fish. Together, our results suggest that experience of prey strengthens prey-associated visual drive to the forebrain, and that this lowers the threshold for prey-associated visual activity to trigger activity in motor areas, thereby improving capture performance.

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