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  1. The plainfin midshipman, Porichthys notatus, is a seasonally breeding vocal fish that relies on acoustic communication to mediate nocturnal reproductive behaviors. Reproductive females use their auditory senses to detect and localize “singing” males that produce multiharmonic advertisement (mate) calls during the breeding season. Previous work showed that the midshipman saccule, which is considered the primary end organ used for hearing in midshipman and most other fishes, exhibits reproductive state and hormone-dependent changes that enhance saccular auditory sensitivity. In contrast, the utricle was previously posited to serve primarily a vestibular function, but recent evidence in midshipman and related toadfish suggests that it may also serve an auditory function and aid in the detection of behaviorally relevant acoustic stimuli. Here, we characterized the auditory-evoked potentials recorded from utricular hair cells in reproductive and nonreproductive female midshipman in response to underwater sound to test the hypothesis that variation in reproductive state affects utricular auditory sensitivity. We show that utricular hair cells in reproductive females exhibit up to a sixfold increase in the utricular potential magnitude and have thresholds based on measures of particle acceleration (re: 1 ms −2 ) that are 7–10 dB lower than nonreproductive females across a broad range of frequencies, which include the dominant harmonics of male advertisement calls. This enhanced auditory sensitivity of the utricle likely plays an essential role in facilitating midshipman social and reproductive acoustic communication. NEW & NOTEWORTHY In many animals, vocal-acoustic communication is fundamental for facilitating social behaviors. For the vocal plainfin midshipman fish, the detection and localization of social acoustic signals are critical to the species’ reproductive success. Here, we show that the utricle, an inner ear end organ often thought to primarily serve a vestibular function, serves an auditory function that is seasonally plastic and modulated by the animal’s reproductive state effectively enhancing auditory sensitivity to courting male advertisement calls. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2023
  2. The inner ear of teleost fishes is composed of three paired multimodal otolithic end organs (saccule, utricle, and lagena), which encode auditory and vestibular inputs via the deflection of hair cells contained within the sensory epithelia of each organ. However, it remains unclear how the multimodal otolithic end organs of the teleost inner ear simultaneously integrate vestibular and auditory inputs. Therefore, microwire electrodes were chronically implanted using a 3-D printed micromanipulator into the utricular nerve of oyster toadfish ( Opsanus tau) to determine how utricular afferents respond to conspecific mate vocalizations termed boatwhistles (180 Hz fundamental frequency) during movement. Utricular afferents were recorded while fish were passively moved using a sled system along an underwater track at variable speeds (velocity: 4.0–12.5 cm/s; acceleration: 0.2–2.6 cm/s 2 ) and while fish freely swam (velocity: 3.5–18.6 cm/s; acceleration: 0.8–29.8 cm/s 2 ). Afferent fiber activities (spikes/s) increased in response to the onset of passive and active movements; however, afferent fibers differentially adapted to sustained movements. In addition, utricular afferent fibers remained sensitive to playbacks of conspecific male boatwhistle vocalizations during both passive and active movements. Here, we demonstrate in alert toadfish that utricular afferents exhibit enhanced activity levels (spikes/s) in response to behaviorally relevant acoustic stimuli during swimming. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The inner ear of teleost fishes is composed of three paired multimodal otolithic end organs, which are sensitive to vestibular and auditory inputs. Previous studies investigating inner ear functions have primarily focused on the effects of unimodal stimuli; therefore, it remains unclear how otolithic end organs simultaneously encode multiple stimuli. Here, we show that utricular afferents remain sensitive to behaviorally relevant acoustic stimuli during swimming. 
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