A fluorescent chromatophore changes the level of fluorescence in a reef fish

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Abstract

Body coloration plays a major role in fish ecology and is predominantly generated using two principles: a) absorbance combined with reflection of the incoming light in pigment colors and b) scatter, refraction, diffraction and interference in structural colors. Poikilotherms, and especially fishes possess several cell types, so-called chromatophores, which employ either of these principles. Together, they generate the dynamic, multi-color patterns used in communication and camouflage. Several chromatophore types possess motile organelles, which enable rapid changes in coloration. Recently, we described red fluorescence in a number of marine fish and argued that it may be used for private communication in an environment devoid of red. Here, we describe the discovery of a chromatophore in fishes that regulates the distribution of fluorescent pigments in parts of the skin. These cells have a dendritic shape and contain motile fluorescent particles. We show experimentally that the fluorescent particles can be aggregated or dispersed through hormonal and nervous control. This is the first description of a stable and natural cytoskeleton-related fluorescence control mechanism in vertebrate cells. Its nervous control supports suggestions that fluorescence could act as a context-dependent signal in some marine fish species and encourages further research in this field. The fluorescent substance is stable under different chemical conditions and shows no discernible bleaching under strong, constant illumination. © 2012 Wucherer, Michiels.

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Wucherer, M. F., & Michiels, N. K. (2012). A fluorescent chromatophore changes the level of fluorescence in a reef fish. PLoS ONE, 7(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0037913

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