Toxicity of coelomic fluid of the earthworm Eisenia foetida to vertebrates but not invertebrates: probable role of sphingomyelin

Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2001 Mar;128(3):401-11. doi: 10.1016/s1532-0456(00)00213-1.


The coelomic fluid (CF) of the earthworm Eisenia foetida exhibits a wide variety of biological activities. We found that the CF was not toxic to 42 species, belonging to seven invertebrate phyla, almost all in aquatic adults and larvae exposed to CF. Eleven teleostean species tested died in 0.2-1% CF mostly between 10 and 120 min and the effects were dose-dependent. Tadpoles of the toad Bufo japonicus formosus died in 0.4-2% CF between 80 and 225 min depending upon size, with larger tadpoles surviving longer. Before dying, all experimental tadpoles developed curled and shrunken tails. The Okinawa tree lizard, soft-shelled turtle, Japanese quail, mouse and rat all died after i.v. injection of CF (above 20 microl/kg). Thus, CF was not toxic to invertebrates, but toxic to vertebrates. After heating, CF lost its toxicity to fish, tadpoles and mice. Both CF and lysenin incubated with sphingomyelin-liposomes (SM-liposomes) were no longer toxic, suggesting the involvement of SM in the toxicity. Lysenin, which is a constituent of CF and known to bind specifically to sphingomyelin, exhibited toxicity similar to that of CF. Thus, lysenin in CF is probably responsible for the toxic effects of CF by binding to SM in vertebrate tissues. The bodies of invertebrates might contain little or no SM, while those of vertebrates do contain SM. The coelomic fluid of the earthworm Pheretima communissima has no toxicity to mouse.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Fluids / chemistry
  • Cytotoxins / toxicity*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Invertebrates
  • Liposomes
  • Oligochaeta / chemistry*
  • Phylogeny
  • Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Sphingomyelins / pharmacology
  • Toxins, Biological
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / pharmacology*
  • Vertebrates


  • Cytotoxins
  • Liposomes
  • Proteins
  • Sphingomyelins
  • Toxins, Biological
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents
  • lysenin