The digestive system of the stony coral Stylophora pistillata

M. Raz-Bahat, J. Douek, E. Moiseeva, E. C. Peters, B. Rinkevich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Because hermatypic species use symbiotic algal photosynthesis, most of the literature in this field focuses on this autotrophic mode and very little research has studied the morphology of the coral’s digestive system or the digestion process of particulate food. Using histology and histochemestry, our research reveals that Stylophora pistillata’s digestive system is concentrated at the corals’ peristome, actinopharynx and mesenterial filaments (MF). We used in-situ hybridization (ISH) of the RNA transcript of the gene that codes for the S. pistillata digestive enzyme, chymotrypsinogen, to shed light on the functionality of the digestive system. Both the histochemistry and the ISH pointed to the MF being specialized digestive organs, equipped with large numbers of acidophilic and basophilic granular gland cells, as well as acidophilic non-granular gland cells, some of which produce chymotrypsinogen. We identified two types of MF: short, trilobed MF and unilobed, long and convoluted MF. Each S. pistillata polyp harbors two long convoluted MF and 10 short MF. While the short MF have neither secreting nor stinging cells, each of the convoluted MF display gradual cytological changes along their longitudinal axis, alternating between stinging and secreting cells and three distinctive types of secretory cells. These observations indicate the important digestive role of the long convoluted MF. They also indicate the existence of novel feeding compartments in the gastric cavity of the polyp, primarily in the nutritionally active peristome, in the actinopharynx and in three regions of the MF that differ from each other in their cellular components, general morphology and chymotrypsinogen excretion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-323
Number of pages13
JournalCell and Tissue Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Chymotrypsin
  • Chymotrypsinogen
  • Digestion
  • Mesenterial filaments
  • Stylophora pistillata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Cell Biology
  • Histology


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