Keratin-like Components of Gland Thread Cells Modulate the Properties of Mucus From Hagfish (Eptatretus Stouti)

Cell Tissue Res. 1991 Apr;264(1):79-86. doi: 10.1007/BF00305724.


The hagfishes (cyclostomes) are known to secrete copious amounts of mucus mainly by the holocrine mode from the slime glands. Stressed animals release two types of cells (gland thread cells, GTCs; gland mucous cells. GMCs) which rupture on contact with water and rapidly form a mass of viscous mucus. Herein we report some key sequential events of this process and document a novel role for cytoskeletal polymers. After electrostimulation of Pacific hagfish (Eptatretus stouti), the exudate was collected in a stabilization buffer and GTCs segregated from GMC vesicles. Water was added progressively to mixtures of known quantities of these entities. The changing mucous composition and properties were monitored by light- and electron microscopy, viscometry and immunogold assay. Sequentially, the threads uncoil from GTCs, aggregate with the vesicles, the vesicles rupture and release mucin-like substances, at least some of which adhere to the thread. It was found that the intermediate filament (IF)-rich threads markedly facilitate hydration and modulate the viscoelastic and cohesive properties of the resultant mucus. It was speculated that the thread abets localization of mucus in an aqueous environment and promotes adhesion of mucus to surfaces such as the fish integument. As judged by immunostaining in situ, GTCs, as well as several cell-types in the epidermis, contain keratin-like components. The role of biopolymers on the properties of teleost and mammalian mucus is discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Elasticity
  • Exocrine Glands / cytology
  • Exocrine Glands / metabolism*
  • Hagfishes / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Keratins / metabolism*
  • Mucus / metabolism*
  • Viscosity
  • Water / metabolism


  • Water
  • Keratins