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. 1990 Jul;66(7):607-13.

The Epistellar Body and What Followed From Its Discovery

  • PMID: 2083057

The Epistellar Body and What Followed From Its Discovery

J Z Young. Boll Soc Ital Biol Sper. .


The sequence of discoveries that has followed the investigation of this small yellow spot shows the value of studies begun out of "mere curiosity". The spot occurs on the stellate ganglion of octopods. It proved to be an enclosed sac, perhaps a gland. The search for it in squids and cuttlefishes led to the discovery of the giant nerve fibres. At first they were thought to be veins but we soon showed that they were nerve fibres concerned with jet propulsion. Their action potentials, membranes and synapses have been used for thousand of studies, including those that led to the Hodkin Huxley equations. They have been the basis of much of modern neuroscience. The epistellar body itself proved not to be a gland but a photoreceptor. Comparable photosensitive vesicles are especially large in the heads of deep-sea squids. In the mesopelagic ones they allow the squid to conceal itself by counterillumination, matching its own light output to the light coming from above. In bathypelagic squids the vesicles are enormous and probably keep the animals in the dark, where they breed. The function of the epistellar body, lying within the mantle of octopods is still unknown. It may act in the transparent larval stage to trigger the ejection of luminous plankton, which would be a hazard.

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