, Volume 138, Issue 3, pp 419–424 | Cite as

A farewell to arms: using X-ray synchrotron imaging to investigate autotomy in brittle stars

  • E. G. ClarkEmail author
  • K. Fezzaa
  • J. E. Burke
  • R. A. Racicot
  • J. O. Shaw
  • S. Westacott
  • D. E. G. Briggs
Methods Papers


Autotomy, the self-induced loss of a body structure, occurs in every living class of echinoderms and is related to the remarkable regeneration capabilities of the group. It is particularly prevalent in brittle stars (Class Ophiuroidea). Autotomy is facilitated by mutable collagenous tissue, which undergoes nervous system-mediated changes in tensile stiffness, tensile strength, and viscosity. The previous investigations of autotomy have been based on observations of the external surface, surgical manipulation of internal structures, or data on the morphology of structures post-autotomy. We used fast phase-contrast X-ray synchrotron imaging to visualize full autotomy events in vivo in the arms of specimens of the brittle star Ophioderma brevispina. This method requires no chemical or surgical manipulation and enabled us to identify several key stages in the autotomy process. We used this methodology to observe critical changes within the internal structure of the arm as it transitions from a functional mechanical apparatus to a dysfunctional disarticulated state. This method is the first in which the full intersegmental plane of the arm can be observed during autotomy. It can be applied to visualize autotomy and motion in vivo in other brittle star taxa, as well as in other groups such as asteroids and arthropods.


Autotomy Ophiuroidea Mutable collagenous tissue Synchrotron imaging 



We are grateful to Alex Deriy (Argonne National Labs), Pincelli Hull, Peter Williams (Yale University) and Carmen Soriano for assistance and valuable discussion. This research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357.

Author contributions

EGC, KF, JEB, RAR, and JOS conducted the experiments. EGC, JEB, RAR, JOS, SW, and DEGB interpreted the results. EGC and DEGB prepared the manuscript with input from all authors.


Funded by Yale University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

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Fig. S1. Ophioderma brevispina mounted with one arm vertical, inside a tube, and another horizontal. The other three arms have been removed. (PNG 1942 kb) (760.1 mb)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geology and GeophysicsYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.X-ray Science Division, Advanced Photon SourceArgonne National LaboratoryLemontUSA
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Environmental ScienceVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  4. 4.W.M. Keck Science DepartmentClaremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps CollegesClaremontUSA
  5. 5.Yale Peabody Museum of Natural HistoryYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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