Variable tensility of the oral arm plate ligaments of the brittlestar Ophiura ophiura (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea)



The oral arm plates of the brittlestar Ophiura ophiura L. are connected to lateral arm plates at distal and proximal ligamentous junctions. The distal junction is mobile and is disrupted during arm autotomy; the proximal junction is more rigid and does not participate in autotomy. Aspects of the morphology and mechanical properties of the distal and proximal oral arm plate ligaments have been investigated in order to determine if their tensility is under physiological control. By means of creep tests it was found that elevation of the external potassium (K+) ion concentration causes a decrease in the viscosity of the distal ligament which is either transient or continues until rupture intervenes. In forced vibration tests the distal ligament often shows a biphasic stiffening then softening response to excess K - ions. Anaesthetics block the softening phase but enhance the stiffening component of this response. This ligament is also softened by repetitive electrical stimuli but stiffened by excess calcium ions and by acetylcholine. The proximal ligament appears to have the capacity for only transient changes in mechanical properties. Both ligaments are penetrated by the processes of juxtaligamental cells whose perikarya are arranged in clusters innervated by hyponeural nerves. These cells are thought to modulate the interfibrillar cohesion of the ligaments. It is concluded that the distal and proximal ligaments are mutable collagenous structures which in their stiffened condition help to maintain arm posture without the need for continuous muscular activity, and that at autotomy the distal ligament undergoes a profound loss of tensile strength which facilitates arm detachment.