Optical parameters of the tunable Bragg reflectors in squid

Cephalopods (e.g. octopus, squid and cuttlefish) dynamically tune the colour and brightness of their skin for camouflage and communication using specialized skin cells called iridocytes. We use high-resolution microspectrophotometry to investigate individual tunable Bragg structures (consisting of alternating reflectin protein-containing, high-refractive index lamellae and low-refractive index inter-lamellar spaces) in live and chemically fixed iridocytes of the California market squid, Doryteuthis opalescens. This subcellular, single-stack microspectrophotometry allows for spectral normalization, permitting use of a transfer-matrix model of Bragg reflectance to calculate all the parameters of the Bragg stack—the refractive indices, dimensions and numbers of the lamellae and inter-lamellar spaces. Results of the fitting analyses show that eight or nine pairs of low- and high-index layers typically contribute to the observed reflectivity in live cells, whereas six or seven pairs of low- and high-index layers typically contribute to the reflectivity in chemically fixed cells. The reflectin-containing, high-index lamellae of live cells have a refractive index proportional to the peak reflectivity, with an average of 1.405 ± 0.012 and a maximum around 1.44, while the reflectin-containing lamellae in fixed tissue have a refractive index of 1.413 ± 0.015 suggesting a slight increase of refractive index in the process of fixation. As expected, incremental changes in refractive index contribute to the greatest incremental changes in reflectivity for those Bragg stacks with the most layers. The excursions in dimensions required to tune the measured reflected wavelength from 675 (red) to 425 nm (blue) are a decrease from ca 150 to 80 nm for the high-index lamellae and from ca 120 to 50 nm for the low-index inter-lamellar spaces. Fixation-induced dimensional changes also are quantified, leading us to suggest that further microspectrophotometric analyses of this iridocyte system can be used as a model system to quantify the effects of various methods of tissue fixation. The microspectrophotometry technique described can be expected to provide deeper insights into the molecular and physical mechanisms governing other biophotonically active cells and structures.


A. Ghoshal, D. G. DeMartini, E. Eck, and D. E. Morse
Volume: 10
Number: 85
Pages: 20130386-20130386
Date: May, 2013
ICB Affiliated Authors: Daniel E Morse