Searching for magnetic compass mechanism in pigeon retinal photoreceptors

Alexander Yu. Rotov, Roman V. Cherbunin, Anna Anashina, Kirill V. Kavokin, Nikita Chernetsov, Michael L. Firsov, Luba A. Astakhova

Research outputpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Migratory birds can detect the direction of the Earth's magnetic field using the magnetic compass sense. However, the sensory basis of the magnetic compass still remains a puzzle. A large body of indirect evidence suggests that magnetic compass in birds is localized in the retina. To confirm this point, an evidence of visual signals modulation by magnetic field (MF) should be obtained. In a previous study we showed that MF inclination impacts the amplitude of ex vivo electroretinogram (ERG) recorded from isolated pigeon retina. Here we present the results of an analysis of putative MF effect on one component of ERG, the photoreceptor's response, isolated from the total ERG by adding sodium aspartate and barium chloride to the perfusion solution. Photoresponses were recorded from isolated retinae of domestic pigeons Columba livia. The retinal samples were placed in MF that was modulated by three pairs of orthogonal Helmholtz coils. Light stimuli (blue and red) were applied under two inclinations of MF, 0° and 90°. In all the experiments, preparations from two parts of retina were used, red field (with dominant red-sensitive cones) and yellow field (with relatively uniform distribution of cone color types). In contrast to the whole retinal ERG, we did not observe any effect of MF inclination on either amplitude or kinetics of pharmacologically isolated photoreceptor responses to blue or red half-saturating flashes. A possible explanations of these results could be that magnetic compass sense is localized in retinal cells other than photoreceptors, or that photoreceptors do participate in magnetoreception, but require some processing of compass information in other retinal layers, so that only whole retina signal can reflect the response to changing MF.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0229142
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Early online date5 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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