Sea urchins are excellent models to elucidate metamorphic phenomena of echinoderms. However, little attention has been paid to the way that their organ resorption is accomplished by programmed cell death (PCD) and related cellular processes. We have used cytohistochemistry and transmission electron microscopy to study arm resorption in competent larvae of metamorphosing sea urchins, Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus, induced to metamorphose by L-glutamine treatment. The results show that: (1) columnar epithelial cells, which are constituents of the ciliary band, undergo PCD in an overlapping fashion with apoptosis and autophagic cell death; (2) squamous epithelial cells, which are distributed between the two arrays of the ciliary band, display a type of PCD distinct from that of columnar epithelial cells, i.e., a cytoplasmic type of non-lysosomal vacuolated cell death; (3) epithelial integrity is preserved even when PCD occurs in constituent cells of the epithelium; (4) secondary mesenchyme cells, probably blastocoelar cells, contribute to the elimination of dying epithelial cells; (5) nerve cells have a delayed initiation of PCD. Taken together, our data indicate that arm resorption in sea urchins proceeds concomitantly with various types of PCD followed by heterophagic elimination, but that epithelial organization is preserved during metamorphosis.
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