This paper is an overview of some of the major points to arise in the accompanying contributions of this special symposium issue. The symposium papers arose out of discussions among investigators interested in the inner ear and Mauthner cell, with the focus on hydrodynamic components that activate the Mauthner cell through the octavolateralis system. The intention of the symposium was to investigate the possibility of using our knowledge of the Mauthner system to help understand acoustic processing by the ear, and of using our knowledge of fish hearing to better understand Mauthner cell function. This is the first attempt to take a broad look at both systems to see how they might function together. As such, these proceedings can serve as a mini-tutorial for investigators interested in one system or the other. In this summary paper we also identify some of the major uncertainties in our understanding of the ear-Mauthner connection. These include questions about: (1) the identity of the acoustic stimuli that are neuroethologically relevant to the Mauthner system; (2) the relative importance of the various octavolateralis inputs (acoustic, vestibular, or lateral line); (3) the contribution of the different various acoustic endorgans to the Mauthner system; (4) whether the Mauthner system can distinguish sound source location, and (5) whether Mauthner neurobiology is compatible with the prevailing model (the phase model) for determining sound source location by fishes. We believe these issues provide potentially useful avenues of future investigation that should give important insights into both acoustic processing by fish and the function of the Mauthner system.

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