In the tunicate Ciona intestinalis, the ciliated pharynx, which connects the external environment to a highly developed and compartmentalized gastrointestinal system, represents the natural portal of entry for a vast and diverse, potentially pathogenic microbial community. To address the role of the pharynx in immune surveillance in Ciona, we asked whether C3, the key component of the complement system, was expressed in this organ and whether the encoded protein was functionally active. We found by real-time PCR that C3, constitutively expressed in the pharynx, is up-regulated by LPS injection. Using two specific anti-CiC3 and anti-CiC3a polyclonal antibodies in immunohistochemical staining of pharynx sections, we found that the gene product was localized to hemocytes of the pharyngeal bars (identified as granular amoebocytes) and in stigmata ciliated cells. Use of the same antibodies in Western blot analysis indicated that CiC3 and its activation products CiC3b and CiC3a are present in pharynx homogenates. Our observation that the amount of the bioactive fragment CiC3a increased in the pharynx of LPS-treated animals provides the first molecular and functional evidence for complement-mediated immunological activity in the tunicate pharynx.
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