Molecular characterisation of a cellular conveyor belt in Clytia medusae

Dev Biol. 2019 Dec 15;456(2):212-225. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2019.09.001. Epub 2019 Sep 8.


The tentacular system of Clytia hemisphaerica medusa (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa) has recently emerged as a promising experimental model to tackle the developmental mechanisms that regulate cell lineage progression in an early-diverging animal phylum. From a population of proximal stem cells, the successive steps of tentacle stinging cell (nematocyte) elaboration, are spatially ordered along a "cellular conveyor belt". Furthermore, the C. hemisphaerica tentacular system exhibits bilateral organisation, with two perpendicular polarity axes (proximo-distal and oral-aboral). We aimed to improve our knowledge of this cellular system by combining RNAseq-based differential gene expression analyses and expression studies of Wnt signalling genes. RNAseq comparisons of gene expression levels were performed (i) between the tentacular system and a control medusa deprived of all tentacles, nematogenic sites and gonads, and (ii) between three samples staggered along the cellular conveyor belt. The behaviour in these differential expression analyses of two reference gene sets (stem cell genes; nematocyte genes), as well as the relative representations of selected gene ontology categories, support the validity of the cellular conveyor belt model. Expression patterns obtained by in situ hybridisation for selected highly differentially expressed genes and for Wnt signalling genes are largely consistent with the results from RNAseq. Wnt signalling genes exhibit complex spatial deployment along both polarity axes of the tentacular system, with the Wnt/β-catenin pathway probably acting along the oral-aboral axis rather than the proximo-distal axis. These findings reinforce the idea that, despite overall radial symmetry, cnidarians have a full potential for elaboration of bilateral structures based on finely orchestrated deployment of an ancient developmental gene toolkit.

Keywords: Bilateral symmetry; Cellular conveyor belt; Cnidaria; Development; Evolution; Medusa; Stem cells; Tentacle; Wnt.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / genetics*
  • Developmental Biology / methods
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics
  • Hydrozoa / genetics*
  • Hydrozoa / metabolism
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / genetics*