Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 193, Issue 1, pp 1–11 | Cite as

GABA and glutamate specifically induce contractions in the sponge Tethya wilhelma

  • Kornelia Ellwanger
  • Andre Eich
  • Michael Nickel
Original Paper


Sponges (Porifera) are nerve- and muscleless. Nevertheless, they react to external stimuli in a coordinated way, by body contraction, oscule closure or stopping pumping activity. The underlying mechanisms are still unknown, but evidence has been found for chemical messenger-based systems. We used the sponge Tethya wilhelma to test the effect of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate (l-Glu) on its contraction behaviour. Minimal activating concentrations were found to be 0.5 μM (GABA) and 50 μM (l-Glu), respectively. Taking maximum relative contraction speed and minimal relative projected body area as a measure of the sponge’s response, a comparison of the dose–response curves indicated a higher sensitivity of the contractile tissue for GABA than for l-Glu. The concentrations eliciting the same contractile response differ by about 100-fold more than the entire concentration range tested. In addition, desensitising effects and spasm-like reactions were observed. Presumably, a GABA/l-Glu metabotropic receptor-based system is involved in the regulation of contraction in T. wilhelma. We discuss a coordination system for sponges based on hypothetical chemical messenger pathways.


Tethya wilhelma (Porifera) Induced contraction Coordination γ-Aminobutyric acid l-Glutamate 



Analysis of variance

Ar max

Maximum relative projected area

Ar min

Minimal relative projected area


Relative projected area


Change of relative projected area


Substance concentration


γ-Aminobutyric acid


Ionotropic GABA receptors


Metabotropic GABA receptor


Ionotropic l-Glu receptors


l-Glutamic acid


Least significant difference


Metabotropic l-Glu receptor


Contracted phase


Expanded phase


Contraction speed


Maximum relative contraction speed


Maximum relative speed of expansion


Maximum induced relative contraction speed





We are grateful to Hans-Dieter Görtz and Franz Brümmer for their support of our research, Isabel Koch and Kai-Uwe Genzel for providing and maintaining sponges in the zoological Garden Wilhelma, Wolfgang Hauber for discussion on experimental design, Birgit Nickel and Markus Götz for discussion of results, Isabel Heim and Carsten Wolf for technical assistance with the aquarium. Our work was partly supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) through the project Center of Excellence BIOTECmarin (F 0345D), by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of the State of Baden-Württemberg and the University of Stuttgart. The experiments conducted herein comply with the current laws of Germany where they were performed.

Supplementary material (2 mb)
Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kornelia Ellwanger
    • 1
  • Andre Eich
    • 1
  • Michael Nickel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Biological InstituteUniversity of StuttgartStuttgartGermany

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