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Formation and discharge of nematocysts is controlled by a proton gradient across the cyst membrane
Berking, S.; Herrmann, K. (2006). Formation and discharge of nematocysts is controlled by a proton gradient across the cyst membrane. Helgol. Mar. Res. 60(3): 180-188. dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10152-005-0019-y
In: Helgoland Marine Research. Springer: Berlin; Heidelberg. ISSN 1438-387X, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keywords
    Glutamic acid; Gradients; Lysosomes; Nematocysts; Cnidaria [WoRMS]; Marine

Authors  Top 
  • Berking, S.
  • Herrmann, K.

Abstract
    Cnidaria catch and kill their prey by means of nematocysts. A nematocyst consists of a capsule containing a coiled tubule. On triggering, the cyst extrudes this tubule in an extremely rapid manner. The mechanisms and driving forces of discharge are still unknown. We found nematocysts of various cnidarians to be acidic inside and propose that the pH difference between cyst matrix and cytoplasm drives the discharge of cysts. For large cysts of Aiptasia we calculated that the internal concentration of protons and protonated carboxyl groups is about 5 M. Cysts contain polyacids in a high concentration. At a low pH several of the carboxyl groups of the polymer are uncharged. The carboxyl groups dissociate when, on triggering, the proton concentration becomes balanced across the cyst membrane. The speed of protons in water is extremely rapid. Thus, the equilibration of the proton concentration initially results in a negative net charge within the cyst and therefore in a sudden electrostatic repulsion between the dissociated carboxyl groups of the polymer. This causes an increase in the pressure of the matrix against the cyst wall. We suggest that this nonosmotic pressure increase causes the first and extremely rapid step of discharge. We propose that in a second step cations and water are taken up, generating an increase in osmotic pressure. A change in the pH value may also facilitate the invagination and evagination, respectively, of the tubule.

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