To elucidate the nociceptive system of the brown treesnake, Boiga irregularis, we exposed isolated brown treesnake trigeminal neurons to thermal and chemical stimulation. We measured responses as changes in intracellular calcium using ratiometric fluorescent calcium imaging. Responses to aversive thermal and chemical identified several classes of putative nociceptors. Compounds that were aversive excited many trigeminal neurons, putative chemonociceptors. Identification as nociceptors was further supported by lack of activation by compounds that were not aversive. Brown treesnake neurons had thermal thresholds ranging from 32 to 49 °C. The distribution was discontinuous, with a population of thresholds from 32 to 45 °C and a population with thresholds > 48 °C. Thermal stimulation of 48 °C has been shown to be strongly aversive to brown treesnakes, is lethal, and suggests the presence of thermonociceptors. Thermal sensitivity of brown treesnake trigeminal neurons greatly overlaps with chemical sensitivity; only 1.1% of neurons were sensitive to only thermal stimulation. 50% of brown treesnake trigeminal neurons tested with both > 48 °C and cinnamaldehyde responded to both stimuli, identifying putative polymodal nociceptors. Although a previous study found brown treesnakes insensitive to capsicum extract containing capsaicin, brown treesnake trigeminal neurons responded to capsaicin. These findings are of evolutionary interest as well as providing potential insights into managing this significant pest species.
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