In symbioses established through horizontal transmission, evolution has selected for mechanisms that promote the recruitment of symbionts from the environment. Using the binary association between the Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, and its symbiont, Vibrio fischeri, we explored the first step of symbiont enrichment around sites where V. fischeri cells will enter host tissues. Earlier studies of the system had shown that, within minutes of hatching in natural seawater, ciliated epithelia of the nascent symbiotic tissue secrete a layer of mucus in response to exposure to the cell-wall biomolecule peptidoglycan (PGN) from non-specific bacterioplankton. We hypothesized that a peptidoglycan recognition protein, EsPGRP4, is the receptor that mediates host mucus secretion by sensing the environmental PGN; earlier studies of this protein family had shown that this is the only member predicted to behave as a membrane receptor. Immunocytochemistry localized EsPGRP4 to the superficial ciliated fields of the juvenile organ. We found that production of EsPGRP4 increased over the first 48 h after hatching if the light organ remained uncolonized. When colonized by V. fischeri, the levels of the protein in light-organ tissue remained similar to that of hatchling organs. Pharmacologically curing the initially colonized light organ with antibiotics resulted in return of EsPGRP4 production to levels similar to light organs that had remained uncolonized since hatching. Furthermore, we found that preincubation of the tissues with an EsPGRP4 antibody decreased light organ mucus production and colonization. These findings provide evidence of an innate mechanism that underlies a crucial first step in the horizontal recruitment of bacterial symbionts.
Keywords: Euprymna scolopes; Horizontal transmission; Peptidoglycan; Vibrio fischeri.