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Histamine-like immunoreactivity in photoreceptors of the compound eyes and ocelli of the flies Calliphora erythrocephala and Musca domestica


Antibodies to histamine were used for immunocytochemical studies of the visual system in the flies Calliphora erythrocephala and Musca domestica. Specific immunolabeling of photoreceptors was found both in the compound eyes and ocelli of both species. In the compound eyes histamine-like immunoreactivity (HA-IR) was found in all the short visual fibers (photoreceptors R1–6) and one type of long visual fiber (photoreceptor R8). In addition, the ocellar photoreceptors also show HA-IR. In view of earlier biochemical and pharmacological/physiological findings by Elias and Evans (1983) and Hardie (1987) it thus seems likely that histamine is a neurotransmitter in insect photoreceptors. Interestingly, the second type of long visual fiber (photoreceptor R7) has recently been found to be GABA-immunoreactive (Datum et al. 1986). The two types of long visual fibers may hence use different transmitters which act on different receptors of the postsynaptic neurons in the second visual neuropil, the medulla. In addition to the photoreceptors in the retina and ocelli, we found processes of HA-IR neurons in one of the optic lobe neuropils, the lobula. This finding indicates that histamine may also be a transmitter in certain interneurons in the visual system.

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HA :



γ-amino butyric acid


glutamic acid decarboxylase

5-HT :

5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin)


histamine-like immunoreactivity

R1-R6 :

class of short-axoned photoreceptors

R7 and R8 :

long-axoned photoreceptors


large monopolar neuron of lamina


human serum albumin


phosphate-buffered saline




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Correspondence to Prof. Dr. Dick R. Nässel.

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Nässel, D.R., Holmqvist, M.H., Hardie, R.C. et al. Histamine-like immunoreactivity in photoreceptors of the compound eyes and ocelli of the flies Calliphora erythrocephala and Musca domestica . Cell Tissue Res. 253, 639–646 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00219755

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Key words

  • Insect visual system
  • Photoreceptors
  • Neurotransmitter
  • Histamine
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Calliphora erythrocephala
  • Musca domestica (Insecta)