The photosensory pineal complex of anurans comprises an extracranial part, the frontal organ, and an intracranial part, the pineal organ proper. Although the pineal organ functions mainly as a luminosity detector, the frontal organ monitor the relative proportions of short and intermediate/long wavelengths in the ambient illumination. The major pathway of information processing in the pineal and frontal organs is the photoreceptor to ganglion cell synapse. It is not known whether interneurons form part of the neural circuitry. In the present study, we demonstrate GABA-immunoreactive (GABA-IR) neurons in the pineal and frontal organs of the frog, Rana esculenta. No GABA-IR axons were observed in the pineal nerve between the frontal and pineal organs, or in the pineal tract that connects the pineal complex with the brain. The GABA-IR neurons differed in morphology from centrally projecting neurons visualized by retrograde labeling with horseradish peroxidase. Thus, we suggest that the GABA-IR neurons in the pineal and frontal organs represent local interneurons.
Axons of central origin, immunoreactive with a sensitive antiserum against the tetrapeptide Phe-Met-Phe-Arg-NH2 (FMRFamide), were observed in the intracranial portion of the photosensory pineal organ. The immunoreactive axons enter the caudal pole of the pineal organ via the posterior commissure. The largest density of axons was observed in the caudal part, while fewer axons were detected in the rostral portion. The uneven distribution of the FMRFamide-immunoreactive axons may be related to the distribution of different types of intrapineal neurons. FMRFamide-immunoreactive varicose axons were observed in the extracranial frontal organ. A central innervation of the pineal organ, previously known exclusively from amniotes, is probably not per se linked with the evolutionary transition of the pineal organ from a directly photosensory organ to a neuroendocrine organ. It could rather represent a centrifugal input to a sensory system which has been retained when the directly sensory functions have changed, during phylogency, to neuroendocrine functions.