Morula cells (MCs), ubiquitous ascidian cells which participate in alloimmune reactions, were studied in allogeneic and xenogeneic assays performed with Botryllus schlosseri (Pallas, 1766) colonies from the Mediterranean and the Pacific coast, USA. Experiments were performed on the morphological level, on blood cells sampled or vitally labeled in situ and on histological sections. In non-interacting B. schlosseri during blastogenic cycles A to C, MCs congregate in tentacles of the zooids' siphons. During the takeover phase of blastogenesis they disappear, appearing again in the siphons of the newly developed generation of zooids. In both compatible and incompatible allogeneic reactions their numbers in interacting ampullae increased fourfold within 2 h after first contacts, reaching up to 50% of the total blood-borne cells in ampulla lumens. In rejection processes most of these cells died, while in autologous or allogeneic fusions they disappeared from interacting ampullae within days of the reaction. During allogeneic rejections, we followed cases (up to 1 week) in which MCs crossed all morphological/physiological barriers between noncompatible colonies and entered the tunic matrices and blood systems of the interacting partners, forming successful microchimerism. In xenogeneic assays with Botrylloides sp., MCs concentrated at the xenogeneic boundary, but they never crossed into the other species. One week after fusion or rejection interactions, large numbers of macrophages clearing dead cells were found in contact areas. This is the first evidence for compartmentalization of specific cellular defense reactions in the tunicate circulatory system.
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Acknowledgements This study is part of the research carried out at the Minerva Center for Marine Invertebrate Immunology and Developmental Biology and was also supported by grants from the US–Israel Binational Science Foundation and the International Human Frontier Science Program.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science