The discovery of a sensory organ, the Schwabe organ, was recently reported as a unifying feature of chitons in the order Lepidopleurida. It is a patch of pigmented tissue located on the roof of the pallial cavity, beneath the velum on either side of the mouth. The epithelium is densely innervated and contains two types of potential sensory cells. As the function of the Schwabe organ remains unknown, we have taken a cross-disciplinary approach, using anatomical, histological and behavioural techniques to understand it. In general, the pigmentation that characterises this sensory structure gradually fades after death; however, one particular concentrated pigment dot persists. This dot is positionally homologous to the larval eye in chiton trochophores, found in the same neuroanatomical location, and furthermore the metamorphic migration of the larval eye is ventral in species known to possess Schwabe organs. Here we report the presence of a discrete subsurface epithelial structure in the region of the Schwabe organ in Leptochiton asellus that histologically resembles the chiton larval eye. Behavioural experiments demonstrate that Leptochiton asellus with intact Schwabe organs actively avoid an upwelling light source, while Leptochiton asellus with surgically ablated Schwabe organs and a control species lacking the organ (members of the other extant order, Chitonida) do not (Kruskal-Wallis, H = 24.82, df = 3, p < 0.0001). We propose that the Schwabe organ represents the adult expression of the chiton larval eye, being retained and elaborated in adult lepidopleurans.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)