Chemosensory Systems in the Sea Catfish, Plotosus japonicus

  • Takanori IkenagaEmail author
  • Sadao Kiyohara


The gustatory system of the Japanese sea catfish Plotosus japonicus is highly developed. P. japonicus has four pairs of barbels around its mouth that act as gustatory organs, and taste buds are distributed along the entire length of the barbels. The density of taste buds in barbels is higher at the tip than proximally and is also higher in rostral areas than in caudal areas. Taste bud-rich regions on barbels are more likely to come into frequent contact with environmental substrates, so uneven distribution of the taste buds would seem to benefit effective food searching. The taste buds are also distributed in the fins and trunk. The taste buds contain disk-shaped serotonin-immunopositive cells in their basal regions. The function of these basal cells and the associated serotonin regarding taste information transduction is currently unknown.

Gustatory information is transmitted from taste buds to the brain via one of the three cranial nerves, including the facial, glossopharyngeal, and vagus nerves. The facial nerve innervates taste buds of body surface and the rostral-most region of the mouth, whereas the other two nerves innervate those of the posterior oropharyngeal region. The primary gustatory center in the medulla protrudes dorsally as a pair of longitudinal columns, of which their anterior and posterior regions are termed the facial and vagal lobes. The facial lobe has five distinct lobules, four of which receive topographical inputs from facial nerve fibers innervating corresponding barbels.

Nerve fibers innervating barbels respond to some amino acids, including betaine, glycine, L-alanine, and L-proline; betaine has been shown to elicit feeding behavior. In addition to amino acid responses, nerve fibers innervating barbels also respond to slight (≦ 0.1) transient declines in the pH of ambient seawater. Behavioral experiments suggest that P. japonicus can detect cryptic prey due to minute pH declines in the surrounding seawater that result from an accumulation of respiratory by products.

Olfactory neurons also respond to several amino acids, including L-leucine and L-methionine, which may serve as feeding cues. The formation of schools is mediated by the olfactory sense as well, and recognition of schooling odor is governed by the mixing pattern of the specific phosphatidylcholine molecular species.


Catfish Gustatory sense Taste bud Barbel Innervation Facial lobe pH sensing Olfactory sense 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and Bioscience, Graduate School of Science and EngineeringKagoshima UniversityKagoshima-shiJapan

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