Pythons, renowned for their abilities to fast for manybmonths and ingest very large meals, exhibit extreme physiological adaptations to their “sit-and-wait predator” lifestyle. In particular, the size and function of their visceral organs are rapidly up- and downregulated during the transitions between feast and famine. In this study, we have employed computer tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to successively portrait the complete digestion cycle in a completely non-invasive way. Two- and threedimensional graphical reconstructions were performed, specifically addressing the visceral organs and intestines. Fasting Burmese pythons (Python molurus) were scanned before and at 2, 16, 24, 40, 48, 72 and 132 hours after ingestion of one rat. Acquired images revealed a gradual disappearance of the meal accompanied by an overall expansion of the intestine, shrinking of the gallbladder, and a 30% increase in heart volume. These immediate responses following ingestion are consistent with previous invasive studies of pythons. In conclusion, our study showed that MRI and CT are capable to repeatedly and non-invasively image the phenotypic flexibility of internal organs in vertebrates.
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2010 Society for Experimental Biology Annual Meeting, 2010