Morphology of the cornea and iris in the Australian lungfish Neoceratodus forsteri (Krefft 1870) (Dipnoi): Functional and evolutionary perspectives of transitioning from an aquatic to a terrestrial environment

Hermann Barry Collin, Julian Ratcliffe, Shaun P. Collin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri (Krefft 1870), is the sole extant member of the Ceratodontidae within the Dipnoi, a small order of sarcopterygian (lobe-finned) fishes, that is thought to be the earliest branching species of extant lungfishes, having changed little over the last 100 million years. To extend studies on anatomical adaptations associated with the fish–tetrapod transition, the ultrastructure of the cornea and iris is investigated using light and electron (transmission and scanning) microscopy to investigate structure–function relationships and compare these to other vertebrate corneas (other fishes and tetrapods). In contrast to previous studies, the cornea is found to have only three main components, comprising an epithelium with its basement membrane, a stroma with a Bowman's layer and an endothelium, and is not split into a dermal (secondary) spectacle and a scleral cornea. The epithelial cells are large, relatively low in density and similar to many species of non-aquatic tetrapods and uniquely possess numerous surface canals that contain and release mucous granules onto the corneal surface to avoid desiccation. A Bowman's layer is present and, in association with extensive branching and anastomosing of the collagen fibrils, may be an adaptation for the inhibition of swelling and/or splitting of the stroma during its amphibious lifestyle. The dorsal region of the stroma possesses aggregations of pigment granules that act as a yellow, short wavelength-absorbing filter during bright light conditions. Desçemet's membrane is absent and replaced by an incomplete basement membrane overlying a monocellular endothelium. The iris is pigmented, well-developed, vascularised and contractile containing reflective crystals anteriorly. Based upon its ultrastructure and functional adaptations, the cornea of N. forsteri is more similar to amphibians than to other bony fishes and is well-adapted for an amphibious lifestyle.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21662
JournalJournal of Morphology
Volume285
Issue number1
Early online date13 Dec 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

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