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Ultrastructural analysis of a putative magnetoreceptor in the beak of homing pigeons

Ultrastructural analysis of a putative magnetoreceptor in the beak of homing pigeons
Ultrastructural analysis of a putative magnetoreceptor in the beak of homing pigeons
With the use of different light and electron microscopic methods, we investigated the
subcellular organization of afferent trigeminal terminals in the upper beak of the homing
pigeon, Columba livia, which are about 5 m in diameter and contain superparamagnetic
magnetite (SPM) crystals. The SPM nanocrystals are assembled in clusters (diameter, 1–2
m). About 10 to 15 of these clusters occur inside one nerve terminal, arranged along the cell
membrane. Each SPM cluster is embedded in a solid fibrous cup, open towards the cell
surface, to which the cluster adheres by delicate fiber strands. In addition to the SPM
clusters, a second inorganic iron compound has been identified: noncrystalline platelets of
iron phosphate (about 500 nm wide and long and maximally 100 nm thick) that occur along
a fibrous core of the terminal. The anatomic features suggested that these nerve endings
could detect small intensity changes of the geomagnetic field. Such stimuli can induce
deformations of the SPM clusters, which could be transduced into primary receptor potentials
by mechanosensitive membrane receptor channels. The subepidermal fat cells surrounding
the nerve endings prevent the inside from external mechanical stimuli. These structural
findings corresponded to conclusions inferred from rock magnetic measurements, theoretical
calculations, model experiments, and behavioral data, which also matched previous electrophysiologic
recordings from migratory birds.
0021-9967
350-360
Fleissner, Gerta
5cb26383-b88d-44b5-9973-f5cee4d9f4c0
Holtkamp-Rotzler, Elke
027d82b0-8fb9-4bcd-97bd-5d5f4e142775
Hanzlik, Marianne
f38d96b5-c630-499b-a02e-30d08de77085
Winklhofer, Michael
a471c9f2-06f1-4a68-a8bd-11ef9f24aeb8
Fleissner, Gunther
476a5930-d3ed-47ae-97ef-69d91a59fd46
Petersen, Nikolai
7cafb347-9de1-4102-85db-003503a9134f
Wiltschko, Wolfgang
e04b67d4-26ce-41d7-a85c-21c45d3609dd
Fleissner, Gerta
5cb26383-b88d-44b5-9973-f5cee4d9f4c0
Holtkamp-Rotzler, Elke
027d82b0-8fb9-4bcd-97bd-5d5f4e142775
Hanzlik, Marianne
f38d96b5-c630-499b-a02e-30d08de77085
Winklhofer, Michael
a471c9f2-06f1-4a68-a8bd-11ef9f24aeb8
Fleissner, Gunther
476a5930-d3ed-47ae-97ef-69d91a59fd46
Petersen, Nikolai
7cafb347-9de1-4102-85db-003503a9134f
Wiltschko, Wolfgang
e04b67d4-26ce-41d7-a85c-21c45d3609dd

Fleissner, Gerta, Holtkamp-Rotzler, Elke, Hanzlik, Marianne, Winklhofer, Michael, Fleissner, Gunther, Petersen, Nikolai and Wiltschko, Wolfgang (2003) Ultrastructural analysis of a putative magnetoreceptor in the beak of homing pigeons. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 458 (4), 350-360. (doi:10.1002/cne.10579).

Record type: Article

Abstract

With the use of different light and electron microscopic methods, we investigated the
subcellular organization of afferent trigeminal terminals in the upper beak of the homing
pigeon, Columba livia, which are about 5 m in diameter and contain superparamagnetic
magnetite (SPM) crystals. The SPM nanocrystals are assembled in clusters (diameter, 1–2
m). About 10 to 15 of these clusters occur inside one nerve terminal, arranged along the cell
membrane. Each SPM cluster is embedded in a solid fibrous cup, open towards the cell
surface, to which the cluster adheres by delicate fiber strands. In addition to the SPM
clusters, a second inorganic iron compound has been identified: noncrystalline platelets of
iron phosphate (about 500 nm wide and long and maximally 100 nm thick) that occur along
a fibrous core of the terminal. The anatomic features suggested that these nerve endings
could detect small intensity changes of the geomagnetic field. Such stimuli can induce
deformations of the SPM clusters, which could be transduced into primary receptor potentials
by mechanosensitive membrane receptor channels. The subepidermal fat cells surrounding
the nerve endings prevent the inside from external mechanical stimuli. These structural
findings corresponded to conclusions inferred from rock magnetic measurements, theoretical
calculations, model experiments, and behavioral data, which also matched previous electrophysiologic
recordings from migratory birds.

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Published date: 14 April 2003

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 66002
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/66002
ISSN: 0021-9967
PURE UUID: 74b11b33-aa62-445b-be16-cc4ece6d8cbf

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Date deposited: 17 Apr 2009
Last modified: 19 Jul 2017 00:28

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Contributors

Author: Gerta Fleissner
Author: Elke Holtkamp-Rotzler
Author: Marianne Hanzlik
Author: Michael Winklhofer
Author: Gunther Fleissner
Author: Nikolai Petersen
Author: Wolfgang Wiltschko

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