Biosens Bioelectron. 1999 Jan 1;14(1):53-9.
The Python pit organ: imaging and immunocytochemical analysis of an extremely sensitive natural infrared detector.
Grace MS, Church DR, Kelly CT, Lynn WF, Cooper TM.
Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA. email@example.com
The Python infrared-sensitive pit organ is a natural infrared imager that combines high sensitivity, ambient temperature function, microscopic dimensions, and self-repair. We are investigating the spectral sensitivity and signal transduction process in snake infrared-sensitive neurons, neither of which is understood. For example, it is unknown whether infrared receptor neurons function on a thermal or a photic mechanism. We imaged pit organs in living Python molurus and Python regius using infrared-sensitive digital video cameras. Pit organs were significantly more absorptive and/or emissive than surrounding tissues in both 3-5 microns and 8-12 microns wavelength ranges. Pit organs exhibited greater absorption/emissivity in the 8-12 microns range than in the 3-5 microns range. To directly test the relationship between photoreceptors and pit organ infrared-sensitive neurons, we performed immunocytochemistry using antisera directed against retinal photoreceptor opsins. Retinal photoreceptors were labeled with antisera specific for retinal opsins, but these antisera failed to label terminals of infrared-sensitive neurons in the pit organ. Infrared-receptive neurons were also distinguished from retinal photoreceptors on the basis of their calcium-binding protein content. These results indicate that the pit organ absorbs infrared radiation in two major atmospheric transmission windows, one of which (8-12 microns) matches emission of targeted prey, and that infrared receptors are biochemically distinct from retinal photoreceptors. These results also provide the first identification of prospective biochemical components of infrared signal transduction in pit organ receptor neurons.
PMID: 10028649 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Microvasc Res. 2003 May;65(3):179-85.
The microvasculature of python pit organs: morphology and blood flow microkinetics.
Goris RC, Atobe Y, Nakano M, Hisajima T, Funakoshi K, Kadota T.
Department of Anatomy, Yokohama City University School of Medicine, Fukuura 3-9, Kanazawa-ku, Japan. firstname.lastname@example.org
Boid snakes have infrared sensing pits that resemble crotaline pits in electrophysiological function and ultrastructure, but differ in gross morphology, number, and location: boids have three or more simple pits in the labial scales vs a single facial pair with more complex morphology in the crotalines. We studied the morphology of the capillary bed and the microkinetics of blood flow in a boid snake, the ball python, Python regius, and compared them with the already known condition in crotalines. We used a Doppler blood flow recorder in conjunction with an electrocardiograph to measure blood flow and heartbeat, and resin casts, transmission electron microscopy, and laser confocal microscopy to study capillary morphology. Blood flow in response to infrared stimulus was virtually identical in the two taxa, but the morphology of the capillary bed differed drastically. In the ball python pits, the capillary bed consisted of a forest of vertically oriented loops with a characteristic dome at the top in contact with the receptor layer of the fundus. Immunohistochemical staining showed pericytes constricting the capillaries and domes with smooth muscle alpha-actin-labeled processes. Since latency of response was as short as 1 ms, the capillaries were apparently responding under local control to provide both nutrition and cooling to the heat-sensitive receptors. We concluded that mitochondria-filled receptors provided with a swiftly responding cooling system were nature's most efficient way of attaining infrared imaging.
PMID: 12711259 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]