Hemodynamics of tonic immobility in the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) identified through Doppler ultrasonography
American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) held inverted exhibit tonic immobility, combining unresponsiveness with flaccid paralysis. We hypothesize that inverting the alligator causes a gravitationally promoted increase in right aortic blood flowing through the foramen of Panizza, with a concurrent decrease in blood flow through the primary carotid, and thereby of cerebral perfusion. Inverting the alligator results in displacement of the liver, post-pulmonary septum, and the heart. EKG analysis revealed a significant decrease in heart rate following inversion; this decrease was maintained for approximately 45 s after inversion which is in general agreement with the total duration of tonic immobility in alligators (49 s). Doppler ultrasonography revealed that following inversion of the alligator, there was a reversal in direction of blood flow through the foramen of Panizza, and this blood flow had a significant increase in velocity (compared to the foraminal flow in the prone alligator). There was an associated significant decrease in the velocity of blood flow through the primary carotid artery once the alligator was held in the supine position. Tonic immobility in the alligator appears to be a form of vasovagal syncope which arises, in part, from the unique features of the crocodilian heart.
KeywordsPerfusion Blood flow Crocodilian Posture Carotid
The authors wish to thank Dr. Ruth Elsey and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for their cooperation, and Dr. P. Kondrashov for his continued support. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.
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