Physiology, biomechanics, and biomimetics of hagfish slime

Annu Rev Biochem. 2015;84:947-67. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biochem-060614-034048. Epub 2014 Dec 12.


Hagfishes thwart attacks by fish predators by producing liters of defensive slime. The slime is produced when slime gland exudate is released into the predator's mouth, where it deploys in a fraction of a second and clogs the gills. Slime exudate is composed mainly of secretory products from two cell types, gland mucous cells and gland thread cells, which produce the mucous and fibrous components of the slime, respectively. Here, we review what is known about the composition of the slime, morphology of the slime gland, and physiology of the cells that produce the slime. We also discuss several of the mechanisms involved in the deployment of both mucous and thread cells during the transition from thick glandular exudate to ultradilute material. We review biomechanical aspects of the slime, along with recent efforts to produce biomimetic slime thread analogs, and end with a discussion of how hagfish slime may have evolved.

Keywords: Eptatretus; Myxine; assembly; biomaterials; intermediate filament; mucus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomimetics
  • Exocrine Glands / cytology
  • Exocrine Glands / metabolism
  • Hagfishes / chemistry*
  • Hagfishes / cytology
  • Hagfishes / physiology*
  • Mucus / chemistry
  • Mucus / metabolism*