The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 65: 245 - 250 (2021)

Vol 65, Issue 4-5-6

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in Ibero-America - Part 2

The subterranean catfish Phreatobius cisternarum provides insights into visual adaptations to the phreatic environment

Published: 22 December 2020

Louise N. Perez1, Bertha R. Mariluz1, Jamily lorena2, Amy Liu3, Marcos P. Sousa4, Rodrigo A.P. Martins5, John S. Taylor3 and Patricia N. Schneider*,1

1Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA), Belém, Pará, Brazil, 2Instituto Tecnológico Vale, Pará, Brazil, 3Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, 4Coordenação de Zoologia, Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (MPEG), Belém, Pará, Brazil and 5Programa de Biologia Celular e do Desenvolvimento, Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Vertebrate eyes share the same general organization, though species have evolved morphological and functional adaptations to diverse environments. Cave-adapted animals are characterized by a variety of features including eye reduction, loss of body pigmentation, and enhanced non-visual sensory systems. Species that live in perpetual darkness have also evolved sensory mechanisms that are independent of light stimuli. The subterranean catfish Phreatobius cisternarum lives in the Amazonian phreatic zone and displays a diversity of morphological features that are similar to those observed in cavefish and appear to be adaptations to life in the dark. Here we combine histological and transcriptome analyses to characterize sensory adaptations of P. cisternarum to the subterranean environment. Histological analysis showed that the vestigial eyes of P. cisternarum contain a rudimentary lens. Transcriptome analysis revealed a repertoire of eleven visual and non-visual opsins and the expression of 36 genes involved in lens development and maintenance. In contrast to other cavefish species, such as Astyanax mexicanus, Phreatichthys andruzzii, Sinocyclocheilus anophthalmus and Sinocyclocheilus microphthalmus, DASPEI neuromast staining patterns did not show an increase in the number of sensory hair cells. Our work reveals unique adaptations in the visual system of P. cisternarum to underground habitats and helps to shed light into troglomorphic attributes of subterranean animals.


opsin, blind catfish, neuromast, sensory system

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