Extracellular matrix and sex-inducing pheromone in Volvox

Int Rev Cytol. 2003;227:131-82. doi: 10.1016/s0074-7696(03)01009-x.


During evolution of multicellularity it was imperative to create a complex, multifunctional extracellular matrix (ECM) out of the simple cell wall of a unicellular ancestor. The green alga Volvox represents one of the simplest multicellular organisms, but even so, it already has a highly developed ECM. This ECM is mainly composed of an assortment of glycoproteins, many of which are hydroxyproline rich and extensively sulfated. Several ECM proteins are cross-linked and might have only structural functions. However, the ECM does not represent a static but rather a dynamic and multifunctional interface between a cell and its neighboring cells or its environment. It not only provides protection and structural support for the shape of each cell and the organism as a whole, but also plays a broad range of biological roles in growth, development, reproduction, and responses to environmental stress or wounding. The variety of functions of the ECM requires many glycoproteins to do the work. To attain a high flexibility and adaptability, almost all ECM glycoproteins from Volvox consist of modules, defined as functional subunits that form modular mosaic proteins with an outstanding combinatorial potential. The ECM's functions are not only extensive but also change under developmental control or by environmental incidents. The changing scope of duties necessitates a permanent ECM turnover and remodeling. In Volvox carteri one particularly challenging trigger of such ECM modifications is a sex-inducing pheromone, which is one of the most potent biological effector molecules known: the glycoprotein pheromone is fully effective for inducing sexual development in males and females at concentrations as low as 10(-16) M. The earliest detectable response to the pheromone is the synthesis of ECM glycoproteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology*
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sex Attractants / genetics*
  • Sex Attractants / metabolism*
  • Volvox / physiology*


  • Glycoproteins
  • Sex Attractants