Diverse Cell Junctions with Unique Molecular Composition in Tissues of a Sponge (Porifera)

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Biological Sciences


Extracellular matrix, Cell junctions, Freshwater sponge, Molecular composition


The integrity and organization of animal tissues depend upon specialized protein complexes that mediate adhesion between cells with each other (cadherin-based adherens junctions), and with the extracellular matrix (integrin-based focal adhesions). Reconstructing how and when these cell junctions evolved is central to understanding early tissue evolution in animals. We examined focal adhesion protein homologs in tissues of the freshwater sponge, Ephydatia muelleri (phylum Porifera; class Demospongiae). Our principal findings are that (1) sponge focal adhesion homologs (integrin, talin, focal adhesion kinase, etc.) co-precipitate as a complex, separate from adherens junction proteins; (2) that actin-based structures resembling focal adhesions form at the cell–substrate interface, and their abundance is dynamically regulated in response to fluid shear; (3) focal adhesion proteins localize to both cell–cell and cell–extracellular matrix adhesions, and; (4) the adherens junction protein β-catenin is co-distributed with focal adhesion proteins at cell–cell junctions everywhere except the choanoderm, and at novel junctions between cells with spicules, and between cells with environmental bacteria. These results clarify the diversity, distribution and molecular composition of cell junctions in tissues of E. muelleri, but raise new questions about their functional properties and ancestry.

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