Either through differentiated glands or specialised individual cells, the coating epithelia of soft-bodied marine invertebrates are responsible for the secretion of a broad span of peptidic substances, from protective mucins to biocides. These secretions are characterised by the presence of cysteine-rich proteins and peptides, rendering a distinct histochemical signature of secretory epithelia. Through a histochemical procedure for fluorescence microscopy in paraffin sections, we performed a comparative assessment of the distribution of thiol-rich compounds in multiple epithelia of different species of intertidal Polychaeta, which revealed distinctive patterns of distribution that closely relate to ecology, morphoanatomy and physiology. The presence of free thiols was notorious in mucocytes and enzyme-plus toxin-secreting cells. Consequently, strong signals were recorded in the mucocytes of the parapodia of Nereis splendida, the epidermis and pharynx epithelium of Mysta picta and the venom glands of Glycera alba. The findings show an investment in mucus secretion in foragers such as Nereis and Mysta, especially the latter, which is not a native burrower, as a protective response and as lubricant for locomotion. Additionally, nereidids are believed to secret integumentary toxins for defence. On the other hand, Glycera is an ambush predatorial burrower whose behaviour entirely revolves around the delivery of venom making use of its four jaws. The results showed that the detection of thiol-rich compounds in histological sections can be a tool to identify potential toxin secretion and delivery structures, with important consequences for the bioprospecting of novel bioreactives from marine invertebrates for the purpose of drug discovery.
- Fluorescence microscopy
- Paraffin sections