Cubomedusae (box jellyfish) possess a remarkable visual system with 24 eyes distributed in four sensory structures termed rhopalia. Each rhopalium is equipped with six eyes: two pairs of pigment cup eyes and two unpaired lens eyes. Each eye type probably captures specific features of the visual environment. To investigate whether multiple types of photoreceptor cells are present in the rhopalium, and whether the different eye types possess different types of photoreceptors, we have used immunohistochemistry with a range of vertebrate opsin antibodies to label the photoreceptors, and electroretinograms (ERG) to determine their spectral sensitivity. All photoreceptor cells of the two lens eyes of the box jellyfish Tripedalia cystophora and Carybdea marsupialis displayed immunoreactivity for an antibody directed against the zebrafish ultraviolet (UV) opsin, but not against any of eight other rhodopsin or cone opsin antibodies tested. In neither of the two species were the pigment cup eyes immunoreactive for any of the opsin antibodies. ERG analysis of the Carybdea lower lens eyes demonstrated a single spectral sensitivity maximum at 485 nm suggesting the presence of a single opsin type. Our data demonstrate that the lens eyes of box jellyfish utilize a single opsin and are thus color-blind, and that there is probably a different photopigment in the pigment cup eyes. The results support our hypothesis that the lens eyes and the pigment cup eyes of box jellyfish are involved in different and specific visual tasks.
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The authors wish to thank Eva Landgren, Carina Rasmussen, and Rita Wallén for expert technical assistance. This study was supported by the Swedish Research Council (D.-E. Nilsson, #621-2005-2909) and the Carlsberg Foundation (A. Garm; #2005-1-74).
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