Experimental determination of refractive index of condensed reflectin in squid iridocytes

Loliginid squid dynamically tune the structural iridescence of cells in their skin for active camouflage and communication. Bragg reflectors in these cells consist of membrane-bound lamellae periodically alternating with low refractive index extracellular spaces; neuronal signalling induces condensation of the reflectin proteins that fill the lamellae, consequently triggering the expulsion of water. This causes an increase in refractive index within the lamellae, activating reflectance, with the change in lamellar thickness and spacing progressively shifting the wavelength of reflected light. We used micro-spectrophotometry to measure the functionally relevant refractive index of the high-index lamellae of the Bragg reflectors containing the condensed reflectins in chemically fixed dermal iridocytes of the squid, Doryteuthis opalescens. Our high-magnification imaging spectrometer allowed us to obtain normalized spectra of optically distinct sections of the individual, subcellular, multi-layer Bragg stacks. Replacement of the extracellular fluid with liquids of increasing refractive index allowed us to measure the reflectivity of the Bragg stacks as it decreased progressively to 0 when the refractive index of the extracellular medium exactly matched that of the reflectin-filled lamellae, thus allowing us to directly measure the refractive index of the reflectin-filled lamellae as ncondensed lamellae ≈ 1.44. The measured value of the physiologically relevant ncondensed lamellae from these bright iridocytes falls within the range of values that we recently determined by an independent optical method and is significantly lower than values previously reported for dehydrated and air-dried reflectin films. We propose that this directly measured value for the refractive index of the squid's Bragg lamellae containing the condensed reflectins is most appropriate for calculations of reflectivity in similar reflectin-based high-index layers in other molluscs.

A. Ghoshal, D. G. DeMartini, E. Eck, and D. E. Morse
J. R. Soc.
Volume: 11
Number: 95
Pages: 20140106
Date: June, 2014
ICB Affiliated Authors: Daniel E Morse