Analysis of Soluble Protein Contents from the Nematocysts of a Model Sea Anemone Sheds Light on Venom Evolution

Yehu Moran*, Daniela Praher, Ami Schlesinger, Ari Ayalon, Yossi Tal, Ulrich Technau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


The nematocyst is one of the most complex intracellular structures found in nature and is the defining feature of the phylum Cnidaria (sea anemones, corals, jellyfish, and hydroids). This miniature stinging organelle contains and delivers venom into prey and foe yet little is known about its toxic components. In the present study, we identified by tandem mass spectrometry 20 proteins released upon discharge from the nematocyst of the model sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. The availability of genomic and transcriptomic data for this species enabled accurate identification and phylogenetic study of these components. Fourteen of these proteins could not be identified in other animals suggesting that they might be the products of taxonomically restricted genes, a finding which fits well their origin from a taxon-specific organelle. Further, we studied by in situ hybridization the localization of two of the transcripts encoding the putative nematocyst venom proteins: a metallopeptidase related to the Tolloid family and a cysteine-rich protein. Both transcripts were detected in nematocytes, which are the cells containing nematocysts, and the metallopeptidase was found also in pharyngeal gland cells. Our findings reveal for the first time the possible venom components of a sea anemone nematocyst and suggest their evolutionary origins.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)329-339
Number of pages11
JournalMarine Biotechnology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank David Fredman (University of Vienna) for sharing his data and Michael Gurevitz (Tel Aviv University) for his critical comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a grant of the Austrian National Science Foundation FWF (P22618-B17) to UT. YM is a Marie Curie Intra-European postdoctoral fellow.


  • Cnidaria
  • Nematocyst
  • Nematostella
  • Toxin
  • Venom


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