Extracellular matrix production and calcium carbonate precipitation by coral cells in vitro

Yael Helman, Frank Natale, Robert M. Sherrell, Michèle LaVigne, Valentin Starovoytov, Maxim Y. Gorbunov, Paul G. Falkowski*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


The evolution of multicellularity in animals required the production of extracellular matrices that serve to spatially organize cells according to function. In corals, three matrices are involved in spatial organization: (i) an organic ECM, which facilitates cell- cell and cell-substrate adhesion; (ii) a skeletal organic matrix (SOM), which facilitates controlled deposition of a calcium carbonate skeleton; and (iii) the calcium carbonate skeleton itself, which provides the structural support for the 3D organization of coral colonies. In this report, we examine the production of these three matrices by using an in vitro culturing system for coral cells. In this system, which significantly facilitates studies of coral cell physiology, we demonstrate in vitro excretion of ECM by primary (nondividing) tissue cultures of both soft (Xenia elongata) and hard (Montipora digitata) corals. There are structural differences between the ECM produced by X. elongata cell cultures and that of M. digitata, and ascorbic acid, a critical cofactor for proline hydroxylation, significantly increased the production of collagen in the ECM of the latter species. We further demonstrate in vitro production of SOM and extracellular mineralized particles in cell cultures of M. digitata. Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry analysis of Sr/Ca ratios revealed the particles to be aragonite. De novo calcification was confirmed by following the incorporation of 45Ca into acid labile macromolecules. Our results demonstrate the ability of isolated, differentiated coral cells to undergo fundamental processes required for multicellular organization.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)54-58
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - 8 Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Aragonite
  • Calcification
  • Cell culture
  • Cnidaria


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