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Temperature response in electrosensors and thermal voltages in electrolytes

Abstract

Temperature sensation is increasingly well understood in several model organisms. One of the most sensitive organs to temperature changes is the functional electrosensor of sharks and their relatives; its extreme thermal responsiveness, in excised preparations, has not been mechanistically described. In recent years, conflicting reports have appeared concerning the properties of a hydrogel that fills the ampullae of Lorenzini. The appearance of a thermoelectric effect in the gel (or, using different methods, a reported lack thereof) suggested a link between the exquisite electrosense and the thermal response of the electroreceptors (or, alternately, denied that link). I review available electrophysiology evidence of the organ’s temperature response, calculate a theoretical gel signal prediction using physical chemistry, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the existing gel measurements, and discuss broader implications for the ampullae and temperature sensation.

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks: T.B. Sanford for detailed discussions of the Soret effect and metal electrodes in seawater; T. Tricas, F. Moss, and L.A. Wilkens, for conversations relating to the ampullae of Lorenzini; J. Curtis, C. Hutchison, and L. Margerum for discussions of electrode chemistry; and M. Hughes, C. Russo, A. Abramson and J. Dyck for discussion of experimental techniques. The author declares no conflict of interest.

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Brown, B.R. Temperature response in electrosensors and thermal voltages in electrolytes. J Biol Phys 36, 121–134 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10867-009-9174-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10867-009-9174-8

Keywords

  • Electroreception
  • Temperature receptors
  • Soret effect
  • Seebeck effect
  • Ampullae of Lorenzini
  • Thermoelectric material
  • Polymer gel