14 June, 2011

How do the scorpion pectines work?

Elisabeth Knowlton and Douglas Gaffin have recently published a paper looking into how the thousands of peg sensilla that cover the pectines work.

All scorpions have two mid-ventral organs called pectines. Each pecten has thousands of pore-tipped sensilla sensitive to a variety of volatile organic and waterbased stimulants. However, it was previously unknown whether individual sensilla were functionally identical or different. The information enhancement hypothesis predicts that all sensilla have similar chemosensitivities such that each is a unit of a parallel processing system. The information segmentation hypothesis states that sensilla differ in their chemosensitivities, a functional arrangement akin to the glomeruli-specific chemical detection system in the moth or human olfactory sense. In this study, we tested these hypotheses by extracellularly tip-recording sensillar responses to three aqueous tastants: 0.01 M KCl, 0.1 M citric acid, and 40% ethanol by volume. We isolated stimulation to one sensillum at a time and compared the chemoresponses. Sensilla appeared to respond similarly to the same stimulant (i.e., sensillar tip-recordings revealed activity of the same cell types), although sometimes a few sensilla responded with higher spike rates than the others. We conclude that our data primarily support the information enhancement hypothesis but for future tests of sensillar function we suggest a new hybrid model, which proposes that a few specialized sensilla exist among a mostly uniform field of identical sensilla.

Knowlton ED, Gaffin DD. Functionally redundant peg sensilla on the scorpion pecten. J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2011 Jun 7.doi: 10.1007/s00359-011-0650-9. [Subscription required for fulltext]

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