A molecular filter for the cnidarian stinging response

Published Date: 
May 18, 2020

A molecular filter for the cnidarian stinging response

Keiko Weir, Christophe Dupre, Lena van Giesen, Amy S.Y. Lee, Nicholas W. Bellono

All animals detect and integrate diverse environmental signals to mediate behavior. Cnidarians, including jellyfish and sea anemones, both detect and capture prey using stinging cells called nematocytes which fire a venom-covered barb via an unknown triggering mechanism. Here, we show that nematocytes from Nematostella vectensis use a specialized voltage-gated calcium channel (nCav) to distinguish salient sensory cues and control the explosive discharge response. Adaptations in nCav confer unusually-sensitive, voltage-dependent inactivation to inhibit responses to non-prey signals, such as mechanical water turbulence. Prey-derived chemosensory signals are synaptically transmitted to acutely relieve nCav inactivation, enabling mechanosensitive-triggered predatory attack. These findings reveal a molecular basis for the cnidarian stinging response and highlight general principles by which single proteins integrate diverse signals to elicit discrete animal behaviors.