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Anat Rec. 1996 Sep;246(1):135-46.

Ultrastructure of the crotaline snake infrared pit receptors: SEM confirmation of TEM findings.

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Department of Anatomy, Yokohama City University School of Medicine, Yokohama-shi, Japan.



Crotaline snakes possess a pair of infrared-sensing pit organs that aid the eyes in the detection and apprehension of prey. The morphology of the receptors in the pit organs has been studied by light and transmission electron microscopy, and the ultrastructure of the receptors has been inferred from the results of this work. But this theoretical reconstruction has never been confirmed by any kind of three-dimensional imaging.


We treated the receptor-containing membrane of the pit organs with potassium hydroxide to remove collagen and expose the receptors, which we then viewed by scanning electron microscopy.


We were able to obtain three-dimensional views of all structures previously reported to exist within the receptor-containing membrane: terminal nerve masses formed from free nerve endings, supporting Schwann cells within the nerve masses, unmyelinated and myelinated nerve fibers, a capillary bed, and vacuole cells.


By providing the first three-dimensional views of the infrared receptors, we have confirmed that previous theoretical reconstructions of the receptors were substantially correct and have provided new evidence of the spatial arrangement of the receptors in a monolayer array.

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