Eye-independent, light-activated chromatophore expansion (LACE) and expression of phototransduction genes in the skin of Octopus bimaculoides

J Exp Biol. 2015 May 15;218(Pt 10):1513-20. doi: 10.1242/jeb.110908.


Cephalopods are renowned for changing the color and pattern of their skin for both camouflage and communication. Yet, we do not fully understand how cephalopods control the pigmented chromatophore organs in their skin and change their body pattern. Although these changes primarily rely on eyesight, we found that light causes chromatophores to expand in excised pieces of Octopus bimaculoides skin. We call this behavior light-activated chromatophore expansion (or LACE). To uncover how octopus skin senses light, we used antibodies against r-opsin phototransduction proteins to identify sensory neurons that express r-opsin in the skin. We hypothesized that octopus LACE relies on the same r-opsin phototransduction cascade found in octopus eyes. By creating an action spectrum for the latency to LACE, we found that LACE occurred most quickly in response to blue light. We fit our action spectrum data to a standard opsin curve template and estimated the λmax of LACE to be 480 nm. Consistent with our hypothesis, the maximum sensitivity of the light sensors underlying LACE closely matches the known spectral sensitivity of opsin from octopus eyes. LACE in isolated preparations suggests that octopus skin is intrinsically light sensitive and that this dispersed light sense might contribute to their unique and novel patterning abilities. Finally, our data suggest that a common molecular mechanism for light detection in eyes may have been co-opted for light sensing in octopus skin and then used for LACE.

Keywords: Behavior; Cephalopod; Dermal light sense.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatophores / physiology*
  • Gene Expression
  • Light Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Light*
  • Octopodiformes / genetics
  • Octopodiformes / metabolism*
  • Octopodiformes / radiation effects
  • Opsins / genetics
  • Opsins / metabolism
  • Pigmentation
  • Skin / metabolism*


  • Opsins