Crocodilians are endowed with thousands of small sensory organs that densely cover the jaws and areas near the teeth. These organs or dome pressure receptors (DPRs) are innervated by afferents of the trigeminal nerve and facilitate the detection of low threshold mechanical force. Prior electrophysiological characterizations have shown that the DPRs are among the most sensitive mechanoreceptive organs of vertebrates, affording an acute sense of touch to the otherwise armored surface of the crocodilians. Furthermore, these pressure receptors have been suggested to play particular significance in detecting the water-borne mechanical signal of prey struggling at the water surface.
During my fellowship, I will investigate neural responses within the trigeminal system to natural prey stimuli in freely-behaving alligators. These results could shed light on conserved principles of vertebrate brain organization and function, particularly as related to specialized adaptations for touch.”