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- Interaction of magnetite-based receptors in the beak with the visual system underlying "fixed direction" responses in birds (2010)
- Background: European robins, Erithacus rubecula, show two types of directional responses to the magnetic field: (1) compass orientation that is based on radical pair processes and lateralized in favor of the right eye and (2) so-called 'fixed direction' responses that originate in the magnetite-based receptors in the upper beak. Both responses are light-dependent. Lateralization of the 'fixed direction' responses would suggest an interaction between the two magnetoreception systems. Results: Robins were tested with either the right or the left eye covered or with both eyes uncovered for their orientation under different light conditions. With 502 nm turquoise light, the birds showed normal compass orientation, whereas they displayed an easterly 'fixed direction' response under a combination of 502 nm turquoise with 590 nm yellow light. Monocularly right-eyed birds with their left eye covered were oriented just as they were binocularly as controls: under turquoise in their northerly migratory direction, under turquoise-and-yellow towards east. The response of monocularly left-eyed birds differed: under turquoise light, they were disoriented, reflecting a lateralization of the magnetic compass system in favor of the right eye, whereas they continued to head eastward under turquoise-and-yellow light. Conclusion: 'Fixed direction' responses are not lateralized. Hence the interactions between the magnetite-receptors in the beak and the visual system do not seem to involve the magnetoreception system based on radical pair processes, but rather other, non-lateralized components of the visual system.
- Development of lateralization of the magnetic compass in a migratory bird (2012)
- The magnetic compass of a migratory bird, the European robin (Erithacus rubecula), was shown to be lateralized in favour of the right eye/left brain hemisphere. However, this seems to be a property of the avian magnetic compass that is not present from the beginning, but develops only as the birds grow older. During first migration in autumn, juvenile robins can orient by their magnetic compass with their right as well as with their left eye. In the following spring, however, the magnetic compass is already lateralized, but this lateralization is still flexible: it could be removed by covering the right eye for 6 h. During the following autumn migration, the lateralization becomes more strongly fixed, with a 6 h occlusion of the right eye no longer having an effect. This change from a bilateral to a lateralized magnetic compass appears to be a maturation process, the first such case known so far in birds. Because both eyes mediate identical information about the geomagnetic field, brain asymmetry for the magnetic compass could increase efficiency by setting the other hemisphere free for other processes.
- Magnetoreception: activated cryptochrome 1a concurs with magnetic orientation in birds (2013)
- The radical pair model proposes that the avian magnetic compass is based on radical pair processes in the eye, with cryptochrome, a flavoprotein, suggested as receptor molecule. Cryptochrome 1a (Cry1a) is localized at the discs of the outer segments of the UV/violet cones of European robins and chickens. Here, we show the activation characteristics of a bird cryptochrome in vivo under natural conditions. We exposed chickens for 30 min to different light regimes and analysed the amount of Cry1a labelled with an antiserum against an epitope at the C-terminus of this protein. The staining after exposure to sunlight and to darkness indicated that the antiserum labels only an illuminated, activated form of Cry1a. Exposure to narrow-bandwidth lights of various wavelengths revealed activated Cry1a at UV, blue and turquoise light. With green and yellow, the amount of activated Cry1a was reduced, and with red, as in the dark, no activated Cry1a was labelled. Activated Cry1a is thus found at all those wavelengths at which birds can orient using their magnetic inclination compass, supporting the role of Cry1a as receptor molecule. The observation that activated Cry1a and well-oriented behaviour occur at 565 nm green light, a wavelength not absorbed by the fully oxidized form of cryptochrome, suggests that a state other than the previously suggested Trp/FAD radical pair formed during photoreduction is crucial for detecting magnetic directions.
- Avian ultraviolet/violet cones identified as probable magnetoreceptors (2011)
- Background: The Radical-Pair-Model postulates that the reception of magnetic compass directions in birds is based on spin-chemical reactions in specialized photopigments in the eye, with cryptochromes discussed as candidate molecules. But so far, the exact subcellular characterization of these molecules in the retina remained unknown. Methodology/Principal Findings: We here describe the localization of cryptochrome 1a (Cry1a) in the retina of European robins, Erithacus rubecula, and domestic chickens, Gallus gallus, two species that have been shown to use the magnetic field for compass orientation. In both species, Cry1a is present exclusively in the ultraviolet/violet (UV/V) cones that are distributed across the entire retina. Electron microscopy shows Cry1a in ordered bands along the membrane discs of the outer segment, and cell fractionation reveals Cry1a in the membrane fraction, suggesting the possibility that Cry1a is anchored along membranes. Conclusions/Significance: We provide first structural evidence that Cry1a occurs within a sensory structure arranged in a way that fulfils essential requirements of the Radical-Pair-Model. Our findings, identifying the UV/V-cones as probable magnetoreceptors, support the assumption that Cry1a is indeed the receptor molecule mediating information on magnetic directions, and thus provide the Radical-Pair-Model with a profound histological background.