Cell type-specific expression profiling unravels the development and evolution of stinging cells in sea anemone

Kartik Sunagar*, Yaara Y. Columbus-Shenkar, Arie Fridrich, Nadya Gutkovich, Reuven Aharoni, Yehu Moran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Background: Cnidocytes are specialized cells that define the phylum Cnidaria. They possess an "explosive" organelle called cnidocyst that is important for prey capture and anti-predator defense. An extraordinary morphological and functional complexity of the cnidocysts has inspired numerous studies to investigate their structure and development. However, the transcriptomes of the cells bearing these unique organelles are yet to be characterized, impeding our understanding of the genetic basis of their biogenesis. Results: In this study, we generated a nematocyte reporter transgenic line of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis using the CRISPR/Cas9 system. By using a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS), we have characterized cell type-specific transcriptomic profiles of various stages of cnidocyte maturation and showed that nematogenesis (the formation of functional cnidocysts) is underpinned by dramatic shifts in the spatiotemporal gene expression. Among the genes identified as upregulated in cnidocytes were Cnido-Jun and Cnido-Fos1-cnidarian-specific paralogs of the highly conserved c-Jun and c-Fos proteins of the stress-induced AP-1 transcriptional complex. The knockdown of the cnidocyte-specific c-Jun homolog by microinjection of morpholino antisense oligomer results in disruption of normal nematogenesis. Conclusions: Here, we show that the majority of upregulated genes and enriched biochemical pathways specific to cnidocytes are uncharacterized, emphasizing the need for further functional research on nematogenesis. The recruitment of the metazoan stress-related transcription factor c-Fos/c-Jun complex into nematogenesis highlights the evolutionary ingenuity and novelty associated with the formation of these highly complex, enigmatic, and phyletically unique organelles. Thus, we provide novel insights into the biology, development, and evolution of cnidocytes.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number108
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 27 Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Moran et al.


  • Cell type-specific transcriptome
  • Cnidaria
  • Cnido-Jun
  • Cnidocyst
  • Cnidocyte transcriptome
  • Nematostella vectensis


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