In vivo imaging of epithelial wound healing in the cnidarian Clytia hemisphaerica demonstrates early evolution of purse string and cell crawling closure mechanisms

BMC Dev Biol. 2017 Dec 19;17(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s12861-017-0160-2.


Background: All animals have mechanisms for healing damage to the epithelial sheets that cover the body and line internal cavities. Epithelial wounds heal either by cells crawling over the wound gap, by contraction of a super-cellular actin cable ("purse string") that surrounds the wound, or some combination of the two mechanisms. Both cell crawling and purse string closure of epithelial wounds are widely observed across vertebrates and invertebrates, suggesting early evolution of these mechanisms. Cnidarians evolved ~600 million years ago and are considered a sister group to the Bilateria. They have been much studied for their tremendous regenerative potential, but epithelial wound healing has not been characterized in detail. Conserved elements of wound healing in bilaterians and cnidarians would suggest an evolutionary origin in a common ancestor. Here we test this idea by characterizing epithelial wound healing in live medusae of Clytia hemisphaerica.

Results: We identified cell crawling and purse string-mediated mechanisms of healing in Clytia epithelium that appear highly analogous of those seen in higher animals, suggesting that these mechanisms may have emerged in a common ancestor. Interestingly, we found that epithelial wound healing in Clytia is 75 to >600 times faster than in cultured cells or embryos of other animals previously studied, suggesting that Clytia may provide valuable clues about optimized healing efficiency. Finally, in Clytia, we show that damage to the basement membrane in a wound gap causes a rapid shift between the cell crawling and purse string mechanisms for wound closure. This is consistent with work in other systems showing that cells marginal to a wound choose between a super-cellular actin cable or lamellipodia formation to close wounds, and suggests a mechanism underlying this decision.

Conclusions: 1. Cell crawling and purse string mechanisms of epithelial wound healing likely evolved before the divergence of Cnidaria from the bilaterian lineage ~ 600mya 2. In Clytia, the choice between cell crawling and purse string mechanisms of wound healing depends on interactions between the epithelial cells and the basement membrane.

Keywords: Basement membrane; Cell crawling; Clytia; Cnidaria; Epithelial wound healing; Purse string.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basement Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cnidaria / physiology*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Wound Healing / physiology