Immunobiology of compound ascidians, with particular reference to Botryllus schlosseri: state of art


  • L Ballarin Department of Biology, University of Padua, Padua, Italy


colonial ascidians, Botryllus, immunobiology, immunocytes, allorecognition, phagocytosis


The phylogenetic position of invertebrate chordates closely related to vertebrates explains the
increasing interest towards tunicate immunobiology. Most of the tunicates are ascidians which, like all
other invertebrates, rely only on innate immunity for their defense. Compound ascidians differ from
solitary species for the presence of colony specificity, i.e. the ability for intraspecific non-self
recognition. The immunobiology of compound ascidians has been particularly studied in Botryllus
schlosseri, which is an emerging model organism for this kind of studies. In B. schlosseri and related
species, immunocytes are represented by phagocytes and cytotoxic morula cells, the former able to
ingest foreign cell and particles, the latter representing the effectors of the inflammatory reaction which follows the contact between genetically incompatible colonies. Activated phagocytes release lectins with opsonic activity and are involved in the clearance of apoptotic cells during the colonial generational change. Morula cells recognize the presence of foreign molecules as well as allogeneic
soluble factors diffusing from an alien colony and as a consequence they: i) release cytokines in the
medium which have chemotactic activity and activate phagocytes; ii) degranulate and release
phenoloxidase which induces necrotic cell death by oxidative stress. A better knowledge of Botryllus
genome will allow a deeper insight into open problems in immunobiology of compound ascidians.