, Volume 107, Issue 5, pp 261–272 | Cite as

Fine structure of the dorsal arm plate of Ophiocoma wendti: Evidence for a photoreceptor system (Echinodermata, Ophiuroidea)

  • Gordon Hendler
  • Maria Byrne


Three structures in the dermis of the dorsal arm plate (DAP) of the brittlestar, Ophiocoma wendti, appear to comprise a photoreceptor system. The upper surface of the DAP bears transparent, knob-like, microscopic structures which are expanded peripheral trabeculae (EPT) of the calcite stereom. The EPT are part of the photoreceptor system and can facilitate light transmission through the DAP by decreasing light refraction, reflection and absorption that occur at stereom/stroma interfaces. Bundles of nerve fibres located below the EPT are a second component of the system, and may function as primary photoreceptors. The intensity of light impinging on the putative sensory tissue is regulated by the diurnal activity cycle of chromatophores, the third element of the system. During the day the chromatophores cover the EPT and thereby shade the nerve fibres. At night they retract into inter-trabecular channels, uncovering the EPT and thereby exposing the nerve fibres to transmitted light. Thus, the transparent stereom may play a role in photoreception, in addition to its generally recognized skeletal function. Although ciliated cells that may be sensory are present in the epidermis of Ophiocoma wendti, they do not appear to be photoreceptors. Functional analogues of the brittlestar photoreceptor system in other echinoderms are discussed, emphasizing the relationship between photosensitivity and the transparency of the stereom in several classes of Echinodermata.


Calcite Developmental Biology Fine Structure Nerve Fibre Light Transmission 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon Hendler
    • 1
  • Maria Byrne
    • 2
  1. 1.Life Sciences, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles CountyLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Zoology DepartmentUniversity College GalwayIreland

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