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Dr. Frederic Laberge
Associate Professor

Dr. Frederic Laberge


Office: SCIE 1465
Ext.: 56238
Lab: SCIE 1407/1408
Ext.: 58156


I grew up in and around Quebec City fascinated about life in all its forms, particularly in the aquatic environment. My disposition led me to study biology at the local University, where I experienced scientific research for the first time during a project on fish thermoregulation in the laboratory of Michel Cabanac. That experience got me hooked and excited my curiosity about the mechanistic aspects of biology. I went on to study metabolic physiology in the rat during my Master's degree. Allergy against the laboratory rodent forced a change of animal model for my Ph.D. I went to the laboratory of Toshiaki Hara in Winnipeg to study the neurobiology of fish olfaction. This degree offered not only the opportunity to go back to my early love of aquatic life, but also the possibility to investigate behaviour, anatomy and physiology at the same time, something I now value greatly. My postdoctoral research has focused on comparative aspects of brain anatomy and physiology based on work in amphibians. It sharpened my interest in the evolution of the nervous system. My current research is focused on the neurobiology of behaviour in amphibians and fish.


B.Sc.   Laval  1996
M.Sc.  Laval   1998
Ph.D.  Manitoba 2002


We study evolution of the neural substrate of behaviour by highlighting similarities and differences in the brain pathways that organize behaviour in different vertebrates. Investigations relate to the structure and function of brain regions that that integrate sensory input and control behaviour in amphibians and fish. The approach is threefold: 1) behavioural experiments; 2) anatomical methods to describe the architecture of brain pathways; 3) measure of brain activity by direct recording of electrical activity or labelling of indirect markers of neuronal activation.

Neurobiology of learning in amphibians

Important similarities have been noted between the organization of the amphibian telencephalon and the mammalian limbic pathways involved in the regulation of motivated behaviour. We study the brain substrate of behavioural flexibility and habit learning in amphibians with the objective of comparing to the situation in mammals. For that purpose, protocols of appetitive and aversive conditioning are established using amphibians in the laboratory. These conditioning protocols are then adapted for methods of functional neuroanatomy, which measure brain activity indirectly.

Olfactory neurobiology in plethodontid salamanders

Most amphibians possess both a vomeronasal (accessory olfactory) and a main olfactory system. The vomeronasal pathway in salamander displays uniquely direct connections to brain regions involved in behavioural control and mediates the detection of a variety of biologically relevant chemical cues. Thus, it appears a good model pathway to study how the nervous system processes sensory information from molecules to behaviour. We study behaviour and brain responses following the delivery of olfactory stimuli to the vomeronasal organ of salamanders. Electrophysiology can be used to establish how bioelectrical signals are processed from the vomeronasal sensory neurons to the behavioural control centres of the brain.

Anatomy of the behavioural brain in amphibians

In mammals, it is thought that brain regions organized as paired longitudinal columns in the preoptic area, hypothalamus and ventral brainstem exert control over the motor aspects of motivated behaviour, with distinct regions dedicated to ingestive/reproductive/defensive and exploratory/foraging behaviours. These regions receive diverse inputs, notably from many parts of the telencephalon. However, the complexity of connections is such that a synthesis is difficult. Amphibians possess simpler brains, but little is known about the functional organization of behavioural pathways in these animals. Comparison of amphibian brains with the better known but highly complex mammalian brains could help elucidate the basic pathways and mechanisms organizing behaviour. We attempt to establish the anatomical and functional brain subdivisions involved in behavioural control in selected amphibian species.

Neuroecology of teleosts fishes

Along with the lab of Dr. Kevin McCann, we have recently begun a collaborative research effort focused on the relationship between brain and sense organ morphology and ecology in teleost fishes. Investigations of physiological parameters and behaviour will be added in the future to get a better picture of what a fish needs to occupy its position in a food web. This research is part of an effort to explain the source of stability in food webs.

Selected Publications

Ramsay ZJ and Laberge F. Organization of afferents to the striatopallidal systems in the fire-bellied toad Bombina orientalis. Brain Structure and Function (in press).

Ramsay ZJ, Ikura J and Laberge F. Modification of a prey catching response and the development of behavioral persistence in the fire-bellied toad (Bombina orientalis). Journal of Comparative Psychology (in press).

Duhaime-Ross A, Martel G and Laberge F. Sensory determinants of agonistic interactions in the red-backed salamander Plethodon cinereus. Behaviour (in press).

Telfer AC and Laberge F (2013) Responses of Eastern red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) to chemical cues of prey presented in soluble and volatile forms. Physiology & Behavior 114-115: 6-13.

Zeyl J and Laberge F (2011) Multisensory signals trigger approach behaviour in the fire-bellied toad Bombina orientalis: sex differences and call specificity. Zoology 114: 369-377.

Roth FC and Laberge F (2011) High convergence of olfactory and vomeronasal influence in the telencephalon of the terrestrial salamander Plethodon shermani. Neuroscience 177: 148-58.

Jenkin SEM and Laberge F (2010) Visual discrimination learning in the fire-bellied toad (Bombina orientalis). Learning & Behavior 38: 418-25.

Laberge F, Feldhoff RC, Feldhoff PW and Houck LD (2008) Courtship pheromone-induced c-Fos-like immunolabeling in the female salamander brain. Neuroscience 151: 329-339.

Laberge F and Roth G (2007) Organization of the sensory input to the telencephalon in the fire-bellied toad, Bombina orientalis. Journal of Comparative Neurology 502: 55-74.

Laberge F, Mühlenbrock-Lenter S, Grunwald W and Roth G (2006) Evolution of the amygdala: new insights from studies in amphibians. Brain, Behavior and Evolution 67: 177-187.


ZOO*2090 Vertebrate Structure and Function (2011- )
ZOO*3000 Comparative Histology (2011- )

Grad Students

Nicola Gallagher (MSc)
Zachary Ramsay (MSc, co-supervised with B. Winters)
Nicholas Edmunds (MSc, co-supervised with K. McCann)