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Microvillar orientation in the photoreceptors of the ant Cataglyphis bicolor

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Polarization sensitivity in arthropod photoreceptors is crucially dependent on the arrangement of the microvilli within the rhabdom. Here, we present an electron-microscopical study in which the degree of microvillar alignment and changes in the cross-sectional areas of the rhabdoms along their length were studied in the compound eye of the desert ant, Cataglyphis bicolor. Serial cross-sections through the retina were taken and the orientation of the microvilli was determined in the photoreceptors of individually identified ommatidia. The reconstructions of microvillar alignment were made in the three anatomically and functionally distinct regions of the Cataglyphis compound eye: the dorsal rim area (DRA), the dorsal area (DA), and the ventral area (VA). The following morphological findings are consistent with polarization sensitivities measured previously by intracellular recordings. (1) The microvilli of the DRA photoreceptors are aligned in parallel along the entire length of the cell from the distal tip of the rhabdom down to its proximal end, near the basement membrane. The microvilli of the retinular cells R1 and R5 are always parallel to each other and perfectly perpendicular, with only minor deviation, to the microvillar orientation of the remaining receptor cells. (2) In the DA and VA regions of the eye, the microvillar tufts of the small receptors R1, R3, R5, R7, and R9 change their direction repetitively every 1–4 μm for up to 90°. In contrast, the large receptor cells R2, R4, R6, and R8 maintain their microvillar orientation rigidly. (3) In the DRA ommatidia, the cross-sectional areas of the rhabdomeres do not change along the length of the rhabdom, but substantial changes occur in the DA and VA ommatidia.

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Received: 6 July 1998 / Accepted: 31 August 1998

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Meyer, E., Domanico, V. Microvillar orientation in the photoreceptors of the ant Cataglyphis bicolor . Cell Tissue Res 295, 355–361 (1999).

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  • Key words Compound eye
  • Photoreceptor cells
  • Polarized light detection
  • Rhabdom
  • Cataglyphis bicolor
  • Formica polyctena (Insecta)