Frédéric Laberge

Fred Laberge
Associate Professor
Phone number: 
519-824-4120 x56238
SSC 1465
SSC 1407/1408

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 integrate sensory input and control behaviour in amphibians and fishes. Little is known about the functional organization of behavioural pathways in these animals. Comparison with the better known but highly complex mammalian brains could help elucidate the basic pathways and mechanisms organizing behaviour. Our 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. Additionally, recent research efforts have begun to unravel how plastic organs, such as the brain, are influenced by ecology and environmental factors in wild fish.

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 within a comparative perspective. 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. By doing these experiments, we hope to clarify which regions of the brain as well as which neurotransmitters and neuromodulators take part in learning and motivation processes in amphibians. The information gleaned from studies of amphibians can then be compared to the situation in other vertebrates to infer evolutionary trends.

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 organ morphology (brain, sense organs, heart) and ecology in teleost fishes. Teleosts display abundant, lifelong brain neurogenesis and cardiac remodelling, allowing them to fine-tune the morphology of organs critical for their performance in a dynamic environment. These investigations aim to get a better picture of what a fish needs to occupy its position in a food web and how resources are allocated for organ growth in individuals.

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.

  1. N Edmunds, F Laberge and KS McCann (2016). A role for brain size and cognition in food webs. Ecology Letters 19:948-955.
  2. N Edmunds, KS McCann and F Laberge (2016). Food web structure shapes the morphology of teleost fish brains. Brain, Behavior and Evolution 87:128-138.
  3. F Laberge, N Edmunds, I Yin-Liao and KS McCann (2016). Relationship between ontogenetic changes in foraging ecology and muscle lactate dehydrogenase activity in wild smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu). Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 73:1389-1394.
  4. To ESK and Laberge F (2014) Illness-dependent conditioned prey avoidance in an amphibian. Behavioural Processes 103:291-296.
  5. Ramsay ZJ and Laberge F (2014) Organization of afferents to the striatopallidal systems in the fire-bellied toad Bombina orientalis. Brain Structure and Function 219:1955-1967.
  6. Ramsay ZJ, Ikura J and Laberge F (2013) Modification of a prey catching response and the development of behavioral persistence in the fire-bellied toad (Bombina orientalis). Journal of Comparative Psychology 127:399-411.
  7. Duhaime-Ross A, Martel G and Laberge F (2013) Sensory determinants of agonistic interactions in the red-backed salamander Plethodon cinereus. Behaviour 150:1467-1489.
  8. 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.
  • ZOO*4170 Experimental Comparative Animal Physiology (2017- )
  • ZOO*3000 Comparative Histology (2011- )
  • Matthew Brown (MSc, co-supervised with A. Heyland)
  • Vern Lewis (PhD, co-supervised with A. Heyland)
  • Caleb Axelrod (MSc, co-supervised with B. Robinson)
  • Irene Yin-Liao (MSc, co-supervised with N. Bernier)
  • Pria Mahabir (PhD, co-supervised with N. Bernier)