Mechanosensation is fundamental to many tetrapod limb functions, yet it remains largely uninvestigated in the paired fins of fishes, limb homologues. Here we examine whether membranous fins may function as passive structures for touch sensation. We investigate the pectoral fins of the pictus catfish (Pimelodus pictus), a species that lives in close association with the benthic substrate and whose fins are positioned near its ventral margin. Kinematic analysis shows that the pectoral fins are held partially protracted during routine forward swimming and do not appear to generate propulsive force. Immunohistochemistry reveals that the fins are highly innervated, and we observe putative mechanoreceptors at nerve fibre endings. To test for the ability to sense mechanical perturbations, activity of fin ray nerve fibres was recorded in response to touch and bend stimulation. Both pressure and light surface brushing generated afferent nerve activity. Fin ray nerves also respond to bending of the rays. These data demonstrate for the first time that membranous fins can function as passive mechanosensors. We suggest that touch-sensitive fins may be widespread in fishes that maintain a close association with the bottom substrate.
- Received November 3, 2015.
- Accepted January 15, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.