Mechanosensation by deformable biological structures and its role in behavior

14 October 2016

Melina Hale
Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy
University of Chicago


Fish fins, insect wings and the patagium of flying squirrels are a few of the many deformable structures that serve critical roles in animal behavior. Although the movements and biomechanics of such structures have been studied in depth, little is known of how associated mechanosensory systems work or allow for feedback modulation of movement. Studies on jointed limbs of mammals indicate that limb mechanosensation is critical for normal function; humans with large fiber neuropathy, and resulting loss of ability to sense movement and position of their limbs, must visually attend to their legs in order to walk. We have been exploring the mechanosensory system of fish fins, which are soft, flexible structures that power locomotion and serve a wide range of other functions. We have found multiple types of mechanosensors on the fins and are examining how they are distributed to inform the fish about fin deformation. We record the physiology of the mechanosensory nerves to understand what they can sense and their sensory resolution. We use manipulative approaches, such as nerve transection to examine the role of mechanosensation in behavior. Lastly we compare the mechanosensory system in phylogenetic contexts to understand its evolution. I will discuss these sets of data and how they are coming together in our understanding of the mechanosensory design of deformable structures and closed-loop control of movement.

current theory lunch schedule