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  1. Understanding the neural basis of behavior is a challenging task for technical reasons. Most methods of recording neural activity require animals to be immobilized, but neural activity associated with most behavior cannot be recorded from an anesthetized, immobilized animal. Using amphibians, however, there has been some success in developing in vitro brain preparations that can be used for electrophysiological and anatomical studies. Here, we describe an ex vivo frog brain preparation from which fictive vocalizations (the neural activity that would have produced vocalizations had the brain been attached to the muscle) can be elicited repeatedly. When serotonin is applied to the isolated brains of male and female African clawed frogs, Xenopus laevis, laryngeal nerve activity that is a facsimile of those that underlie sex-specific vocalizations in vivo can be readily recorded. Recently, this preparation was successfully used in other species within the genus including Xenopus tropicalis and Xenopus victorianus. This preparation allows a variety of techniques to be applied including extracellular and intracellular electrophysiological recordings and calcium imaging during vocal production, surgical and pharmacological manipulation of neurons to evaluate their impact on motor output, and tract tracing of the neural circuitry. Thus, the preparation is a powerful tool with whichmore »to understand the basic principles that govern the production of coherent and robust motor programs in vertebrates.« less
  2. Identification and characterization of neuronal cell classes in motor circuits are essential for understanding the neural basis of behavior. It is a challenging task, especially in a non-genetic model organism, to identify cell-specific expression of functional macromolecules. Here, we performed constellation pharmacology, calcium imaging of dissociated neurons to pharmacologically identify functional receptors expressed by vocal neurons in adult male and female African clawed frogs, Xenopus laevis. Previously we identified a population of vocal neurons called fast trill neurons (FTNs) in the amphibian parabrachial nucleus (PB) that express NMDA receptors and GABA and/or glycine receptors. Using constellation pharmacology, we identified four cell classes of putative fast trill neurons (pFTNs, responsive to both NMDA and GABA/glycine applications). We discovered that some pFTNs responded to the application of substance P (SP), acetylcholine (ACh), or both. Electrophysiological recordings obtained from FTNs using an ex vivo preparation verified that SP and/or ACh depolarize FTNs. Bilateral injection of ACh, SP, or their antagonists into PBs showed that ACh receptors are not sufficient but necessary for vocal production, and SP receptors play a role in shaping the morphology of vocalizations. Additionally, we discovered that the PB of adult female X. laevis also contains all the subclasses ofmore »neurons at a similar frequency as in males, despite their sexually distinct vocalizations. These results reveal novel neuromodulators that regulate X. laevis vocal production, and demonstrate the power of constellation pharmacology in identifying the neuronal subtypes marked by functional expression of cell-specific receptors in non-genetic model organisms.« less