Background: Self-incompatibility, fusion/non-fusion reactions, and contact reactions (CRs) have all been identified as allorecognition phenomena in ascidians. CR is a reaction characteristic of the hemocytes of Halocynthia roretzi, whereby they release phenol oxidase (PO) upon contact with non-self hemocytes. Thus, these cells may represent a primitive form of the vertebrate immune system. In the present study, we focused on the CR of H. roretzi hemocytes and sought to identify self-marker proteins that distinguish between self and non-self cells. Results: We initially generated a CR-inducing monoclonal antibody against the complete hemocyte membrane-protein complement (mAb11B16B10). This antibody was identified based on the differential induction of PO activity in individual organisms. The level of PO activity induced by this antibody in individual ascidians was consistent with the observed CR-induced PO activity. mAb11B16B10 recognized a series of 12 spots corresponding to a 100-kDa protein, with differing isoelectric points (pIs). A comparison of the 2D electrophoresis gels of samples from CR-reactive/non-reactive individuals revealed that some spots in this series in hemocytes were common to the CR-non-inducible individuals, but not to CR-inducible individuals. We cloned the corresponding gene and named it Halocynthia roretzi self-marker-like protein-1 (HrSMLP1). This gene is similar to the glycoprotein DD3-3 found in Dictyostelium, and is conserved in invertebrates. Conclusion: We generated a CR-inducing monoclonal antibody (mAb11B16B10) that recognized a series of novel membrane proteins (HrSMLP1) in the hemocytes of H. roretzi. The combination of expressed spots of HrSMLP1 distinguishes non-self cells from self cells with respect to CR inducibility. Given that the HrSMLP1 gene is a single gene, it may represent a novel type of self-marker protein with a role in CR.
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