The smalleye pygmy shark (Squaliolus aliae) is a dwarf pelagic shark from the Dalatiidae family that harbours thousands of tiny photophores. In this work, we studied the organisation and physiological control of these photogenic organs. Results show that they are mainly situated on the ventral side of the shark, forming a homogeneous ventral photogenic area that appears well suited for counterillumination, a well-known camouflage technique of pelagic organisms. Isolated ventral skin patches containing photophores did not respond to classical neurotransmitters and nitric oxide but produced light after melatonin (MT) application. Prolactin and α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone inhibited this hormonally induced luminescence as well as the spontaneous luminescence from the photogenic tissue. The action of MT seems to be mediated by binding to the MT2 receptor subtype, as the MT2 receptor agonist 4P-PDOT inhibited the luminescence induced by this hormone. Binding to this receptor probably decreases the intracellular cAMP concentration because forskolin inhibited spontaneous and MT-induced luminescence. In addition, a GABA inhibitory tonus seems to be present in the photogenic tissue as well, as GABA inhibited MT-induced luminescence and the application of bicuculline provoked luminescence from S. aliae photophores. Similarly to what has been found in Etmopteridae, the other luminous shark family, the main target of the luminescence control appears to be the melanophores covering the photocytes. Results suggest that bioluminescence first appeared in Dalatiidae when they adopted a pelagic style at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, and was modified by Etmopteridae when they started to colonize deep-water niches and rely on this light for intraspecific behaviours.
Financial support was provided by an FNRS grant.
LIST OF SYMBOLS AND ABBREVIATIONS
- α-melanocyte stimulating hormone
- 5-hydroxytryptamin (serotonin)
- γ-aminobutyric acid
- GABA receptor A
- maximum intensity of light emission
- total quantity of light emitted during one experiment
- melatonin receptor 2
- nitric oxide
- photogenic cover
- photophore density
- photophore diameter
- total length
- time elapsed from stimulation to reach Lmax
- ventral skin patch
- © 2012.