, Volume 329, Issue 2, pp 363-378,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 04 Apr 2007

Formation of giant spicules in the deep-sea hexactinellid Monorhaphis chuni (Schulze 1904): electron-microscopic and biochemical studies


The siliceous sponge Monorhaphis chuni (Hexactinellida) synthesizes the largest biosilica structures on earth (3 m). Scanning electron microscopy has shown that these spicules are regularly composed of concentrically arranged lamellae (width: 3–10 μm). Between 400 and 600 lamellae have been counted in one giant basal spicule. An axial canal (diameter: ~2 μm) is located in the center of the spicules; it harbors the axial filament and is surrounded by an axial cylinder (100–150 μm) of electron-dense homogeneous silica. During dissolution of the spicules with hydrofluoric acid, the axial filament is first released followed by the release of a proteinaceous tubule. Two major proteins (150 kDa and 35 kDa) have been visualized, together with a 24-kDa protein that cross-reacts with antibodies against silicatein. The spicules are surrounded by a collagen net, and the existence of a hexactinellidan collagen gene has been demonstrated by cloning it from Aphrocallistes vastus. During the axial growth of the spicules, silicatein or the silicatein-related protein is proposed to become associated with the surface of the spicules and to be finally internalized through the apical opening to associate with the axial filament. Based on the data gathered here, we suggest that, in the Hexactinellida, the growth of the spicules is mediated by silicatein or by a silicatein-related protein, with the orientation of biosilica deposition being controlled by lectin and collagen.