Mechanosensitivity in the model sea anemone Nematostella vectensis
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Tentacles of the sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis, are covered with hair bundles. Hair bundles were deflected by water jets to test whether they are mechanoreceptors. Electrophysiological recordings confirm that deflections of hair bundles induce transients in membrane current. In a different species of anemone, hair bundle mechanoreceptors are known to change shape and responsiveness according to the activity of chemoreceptors that bind prey-derived compounds including N-acetylated sugars. In Nematostella, hair bundles significantly elongate upon exposure to NANA, an N-acetylated sugar. Based on a bioassay in which discharged nematocysts are counted in gelatin-coated test probes touched to tentacles, we find that NANA shifts vibration dependent discharge of basitrich nematocysts to lower frequencies overlapping those produced during swimming by known prey including planktonic crustaceans. Furthermore, we find for the first time that vibration detection extends at least 2.5 cm beyond the tentacle tips. Thus, Nematostella likely employs its hair bundles to detect swimming movements of nearby prey.
We appreciate financial support from the National Science Foundation of the United States (NSF IOB0542574). We appreciate critical comments by two anonymous reviewers and J. Malcolm Shick.
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