Biological adhesion of the flatworm Macrostomum lignano relies on a duo-gland system and is mediated by a cell type-specific intermediate filament protein

Lengerer, B., Pjeta, R., Wunderer, J., Rodrigues, M., Arbore, R., Schaerer, L., Berezikov, E., Hess, M. W., Pfaller, K., Egger, B., Obwegeser, S., Salvenmoser, W. & Ladurner, P., 12-Feb-2014, In : Frontiers in Zoology. 11, 1, 15 p., 12.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

  • Birgit Lengerer
  • Robert Pjeta
  • Julia Wunderer
  • Marcelo Rodrigues
  • Roberto Arbore
  • Lukas Schaerer
  • Eugene Berezikov
  • Michael W. Hess
  • Kristian Pfaller
  • Bernhard Egger
  • Sabrina Obwegeser
  • Willi Salvenmoser
  • Peter Ladurner

Background: Free-living flatworms, in both marine and freshwater environments, are able to adhere to and release from a substrate several times within a second. This reversible adhesion relies on adhesive organs comprised of three cell types: an adhesive gland cell, a releasing gland cell, and an anchor cell, which is a modified epidermal cell responsible for structural support. However, nothing is currently known about the molecules that are involved in this adhesion process.

Results: In this study we present the detailed morphology of the adhesive organs of the free-living marine flatworm Macrostomum lignano. About 130 adhesive organs are located in a horse-shoe-shaped arc along the ventral side of the tail plate. Each organ consists of exactly three cells, an adhesive gland cell, a releasing gland cell, and an anchor cell. The necks of the two gland cells penetrate the anchor cell through a common pore. Modified microvilli of the anchor cell form a collar surrounding the necks of the adhesive-and releasing glands, jointly forming the papilla, the outer visible part of the adhesive organs. Next, we identified an intermediate filament (IF) gene, macif1, which is expressed in the anchor cells. RNA interference mediated knock-down resulted in the first experimentally induced non-adhesion phenotype in any marine animal. Specifically, the absence of intermediate filaments in the anchor cells led to papillae with open tips, a reduction of the cytoskeleton network, a decline in hemidesmosomal connections, and to shortened microvilli containing less actin.

Conclusion: Our findings reveal an elaborate biological adhesion system in a free-living flatworm, which permits impressively rapid temporary adhesion-release performance in the marine environment. We demonstrate that the structural integrity of the supportive cell, the anchor cell, is essential for this adhesion process: the knock-down of the anchor cell-specific intermediate filament gene resulted in the inability of the animals to adhere. The RNAi mediated changes of the anchor cell morphology are comparable to situations observed in human gut epithelia. Therefore, our current findings and future investigations using this powerful flatworm model system might contribute to a better understanding of the function of intermediate filaments and their associated human diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12-Feb-2014



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