Magnetite defines a vertebrate magnetoreceptor

Nature. 2000 Jul 20;406(6793):299-302. doi: 10.1038/35018561.


The key behavioural, physiological and anatomical components of a magnetite-based magnetic sense have been demonstrated in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Candidate receptor cells located within a discrete sub-layer of the olfactory lamellae contained iron-rich crystals that were similar in size and shape to magnetite crystals extracted from salmon. Here we show that these crystals, which mapped to individual receptors using confocal and atomic force microscopy, are magnetic, as they are uniquely associated with dipoles detected by magnetic force microscopy. Analysis of their magnetic properties identifies the crystals as single-domain magnetite. In addition, three-dimensional reconstruction of the candidate receptors using confocal and atomic force microscopy imaging confirm that several magnetic crystals are arranged in a chain of about 1 microm within the receptor, and that the receptor is a multi-lobed single cell. These results are consistent with a magnetite-based detection mechanism, as 1-microm chains of single-domain magnetite crystals are highly suitable for the behavioural and physiological responses to magnetic intensity previously reported in the trout.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crystallography
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide
  • Iron / analysis
  • Iron / physiology*
  • Magnetics*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss / physiology*
  • Oxides / analysis
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*


  • Oxides
  • Iron
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide